|There's a phenomenon we refer to as The Curse of Competence. Once you've proven that you can do something well, you'll be expected to do as well or better with every successive try. (Which is why we make a point of doing everything as shoddily as possible.) Cameron Crowe suffers from this curse, and that's a darn shame, because if anyone else had written and directed it, we'd consider Almost Famous to be an excellent movie.
Almost Famous is loosely based on Crowe's own adolescence, when he was traveling and partying with rock stars and writing it all up for Rolling Stone. (We, meanwhile, were making backboards for the Science Fair and abusing eye make-up.) William Miller, a 15-year-old rock geek from San Diego, gets the improbable assignment of covering the 1973 tour of Stillwater, a fictitious band on the rocky road to stardom. Hero-worship, heartbreak, hedonism and character-building hijinks ensue.
It is, actually, a very good movie, full of Crowe-esque touches like the un-forced humor of sane reactions to insane situations and excellent dialogue (Crowe has an amazing ear for the little cruelties people say to each other). But all the movie's flaws are Crowe's doing, and Cam, darlin', we know you can do better. For instance, having the drummer blurt out "I'm gay!" when he thinks he's going to die is cheap, lame, overdone and completely unnecessary.
Also, the "Tiny Dancer" sing-along on the bus is cheesy and stilted. Yeah, it's supposed to show the overriding love for music that sustains the band through their differences and despairs, but it just looked like some kind of hung-over field trip. For a movie that's supposed to be about how music can change your life, Almost Famous doesn't do a very good job of showing why anyone would care that much about Stillwater's music.
Then there's the ending. Now, we weren't doing much socializing back in 1973 (being toddlers and all), but we know enough about that era and its celebrities to know that a happy ending to everyone's story is just plain false. If our marathon watching of Behind the Music has taught us nothing else, it's that Stillwater would have broken up after that '73 tour, only to make a half-assed attempt at the reunion circuit 25 years later; Penny Lane (non-groupie extraordinaire) would have gone into scat porn and William Miller would be managing a Denny's.
It's really too bad that Crowe makes so many missteps, because everyone else involved in the movie is just fantastic. Every single performance is simply wonderful. Newcomer Patrick Fugit conveys William's intelligence, curiosity and emotional turmoil with a vulnerability that almost hurts to watch. Kate Hudson as Penny and Billy Crudup as "guitarist with mystique" Russell Hammond are both particularly good, but there's no such thing as a bad or even mediocre performance in this movie.
Except, it pains us to say, on Cameron Crowe's part.