Music Movie Review: "Almost Famous" Cares Too Much About Looking Cool
Directed by Cameron Crowe.
2000s Almost Famous is an American comedy/drama that starts out as a touching tribute to the power of and emotional potency of music, but nosedives into cliché- turning a film with iconic potential into an all style, no substance sex, drugs, and rock n' roll fantasy.
It's 1973, and William Miller is a fifteen year-old aspiring music journalist. When a Rolling Stone editor mistakes him for being older and hires him to profile Stillwater, a fictionalized band opening for Black Sabbath, the shy Miller embarks on the adventure of his lifetime as he joins the band on tour.
Cameron Crowe certainly seemed to have a lot of fun in the 70s. The director says his movie is semi-autobiographical, as he himself was a writer for Rolling Stone in his teens. Crowe had over two decades to sit with his experiences and come to terms with the nature of the rock n' roll scene in regards to underage groupies, the mistreatment of women, and drug abuse- but in Almost Famous, Crowe reminisces on his touring teen years with ill-fitting rose coloured glasses.
The film's poster child, Kate Hudson's effervescent definitely-not-a-groupie 'Penny Lane', is the tragedy at the centre of Almost Famous. Not only is Lane a typical 'manic pixie dream-girl' trope, but the mysterious freewheeling hippie is also used as a muse archetype for multiple male characters. Lane is never fully realised as a full human being, instead reduced to a bubbly cool-girl sex object for both the lead of Stillwater and the teenage Miller to use for artistic inspiration.
Yes, women were less accepted in rock spaces in the 70s- but this isn't a story that addresses misogyny, it pretties it up in flowers and crop tops. Stillwater's members cheat on their wives with their rotating band of flowerchild groupies, later gambling the women away as prize money during a poker game. When Miller criticizes the band for abandoning Lane and 'the band-aids', he visits her in a hotel room, where she nearly overdoses on quaaludes. While incapacitated, Will 'takes his chance', and kisses his unconscious crush. Miller is portrayed as the white knight amongst the men, that his childlike innocence hasn't yet been tainted by ego and toxic masculinity- but under no circumstances is he deserving of anything from Lane by simply respecting her. Her unconscious body is not his reward, and none of this is romantic- it's assault.
The well-known fact that the majority of your favourite rock stars are statutory rapists is an uncomfortable one. Instead of offering an honest, mature, multi-leveled view of the 70s groupie scene, Crowe romanticises the predatory nature of artist/fan relationships. Miller is obviously a teenager, but Lane's mysterious age remains an ongoing joke through the movie, hinting at the idea that her involvement with the band might be more than a little illegal. The amount of possibly underage groupies and fans involved with the faux rock stars isn't painted as an unfortunate reality, but a necessary 'oopsie' needed to fuel the artists' creative juices. After all, it's just a bit of fun- isn't it? A tour bus sing-along to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" isn't enough nostalgic haze to distract from the gross underlayer.
Stillwater are narcissistic jerks, the women related to the band are consistently mistreated, and half of the fans involved could be minors- but Almost Famous cares more about being looked at as an aesthetically pleasing sexy rock n' roll fantasy than respecting its characters, or really saying much of anything at all
~ I'm giving Almost Famous 2/5 stars. It's not an abomination, but I'd be terribly annoyed if I had to watch it again. ~