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ALMOST FAMOUS is another relentlessly agreeable "dramedy" from JER- RY MAGUIRE creator Cameron Crowe, who again wrote and directed this sunny Seventies memoir about a 15 year-old aspiring rock journalist (Patrick Fugit) and his adventures on the road, on first assignment for "Rolling Stone." The kid's also a high-school student who nor- mally lives at home with his pop culture-disowning mother (Francis McDormand). More on her later. With 3000 words to write about "Stillwater," a fictional act created for the film, the awkwardly savvy kid spends several wide-eyed days with the shaggy band guys and their bouncy, teenage groupies. (As the film *is* set in the Seventies, expect both freaky fashions and a facial hair-apalooza.) There's young love to be blossomed, virginity to be lost, and an endless series of messages from Mom, always repeating her hilarious catchphrase: "Don't take drugs!" (The funniest reaction to that phrase is a hotel dude who admits "she freaked me out.") The kid, smart, neither samples any, uh, controlling substances, nor does he (repeatedly) dabble in the freely available love. Instead, he du- tifully sits on the sidelines, recording the various on- and off- stage developments, such as the increasing tension within the band. Will the tour come to a halt before the kid can finish his article? Will the kid profess love to Kate Hudson's adorable groupie? Will the groupie's inevitable rejection hurt, really hurt, or drive the wee man to drink, even though the film's gentle tone suggests that said beverage would most likely be an Orange Crush? Modeled after the filmmaker himself-- who had his own young adven- tures traveling with the Allman Brothers Band-- the kid is a great character. And he's played by a great actor. Newcomer Fugit is a face that's as bright, open, and honest as the screen has seen in years. He's also the perfect foil to Hudson, Goldie Hawn's daugh- ter, and the film's other remarkable young presence. She practic- ally *glows* in her scenes, radiating as much honest innocence as Fugit, though with a sadder, wiser taint. (Another stunning fresh face is Zooey Deschanel as the young man's older sister. My, what wonderfully inviting eyes you have!) Phillip Seymour Hoffman also appears as legendary "Creem" critic Lester Bangs and mentor to the budding writer. Disguised behind moustache, 'burns, and floppy mop-top, his character overfloweth with such sagely wisdom as "be honest and unmerciful," "friendship is booze," and, of course, "you will get free records from the record companies." During one of their many delightfully droll exchanges, the Bangster even hazards a theory on the origins of Great Art! [ Insert collective round of applause from the legions of the world's un-coolest. ] Billy Crudup (WITHOUT LIMITS) and Jason Lee (MUMFORD) play two of the band members. They and the rest of "Stillwater" are introduced as tertiary characters, but get upgraded to secondary and, finally, near-primary status. Crudup, as the dissatisfied lead guitarist, gets the most coverage. His character forms a friendship with the kid, complicating the lad's feelings for a certain groupie, 'cause *she* prefers the company of the Axe Man. (And if you don't know the term "axe", man, this is *definitely* not the film for you!) Herein also lies the feature's most noticeable flaw, other than the oddly under-whelming soundtrack. (Frankly, there just ain't enough music. Another ten or so snippets are needed, methinks. And since you asked, something preferably harder than that Elton John wuss rock...) Crowe's glaring-est mistake is his inclusion of so many "band scenes." Frankly, the characters just ain't that interest- ing. Period. They're neither edgy, wacky, scary, nor even inspir- ing. Nor are the actors who *portray* them particularly appealing. They're just *there*. Earnest and kinda dull. Maybe the roles ne- eded to be played by *real* rock stars. You know, people we both recognize and have some established feelings for. Hell, I'd even settle for a member or two of Spinal Tap. And, really, what's a good rock-movie review without their obligatory mention? (Rated "R"/122 min.) Grade: B+ Copyright 2000 by Michael J. Legeros Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros
Originally posted to triangle.movies as MOVIE HELL: Don't Take Drugs!