Dir: Cameron Crowe. US. 2000. 121 mins.
Prod co: Vinyl Films, DreamWorks Pictures. US dist: DreamWorks. Int'l dist: Columbia TriStar. Prods: Cameron Crowe, Ian Bryce. Scr: Crowe. DoP: John Toll. Art dirs: Clay A Griffith, Clayton R Hartley. Eds: Joe Hutshing, Saar Klein. Mus: Nancy Wilson, Danny Bramson. Main cast: Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Patrick Fugit, Zooey Deschanel, Noah Taylor, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Cameron Crowe's affectionate memoir of one adventure from his precocious youth was reverentially received at Toronto where it had its world premiere and has gone on to an impressive first weekend gross of $2.3m on just 131 screens. You get the feeling, however, that critics and audiences are so starved of decent movies that they're going overboard on this one. Even though DreamWorks is positioning it in exactly the same way as American Beauty, expectant international audiences shouldn't get the wrong idea. Almost Famous is cleverly written and stylishly crafted but it is also slight and slightly indulgent.
Older, sophisticated audiences will respond to the humour and the 70's rock scene being portrayed. Younger ones won't care much for the nostalgia. It will need a stack of awards and sensational word of mouth before grosses start surpassing its reputed price tag of some $60m.
The film is held together not by the rambling story, or rather, series of events, but by the insightful performance of newcomer Patrick Fugit as a rock-loving teenager who lucks his way on to the latest cross-country tour by up-and-coming band Stillwater on assignment from Rolling Stone magazine.
As the tour goes from town to town to the chagrin of his no-nonsense mother (McDormand), he starts to lose his impartiality partly from his friendship with lead guitarist Crudup and also from his growing affection for a groupie - and Crudup's girlfriend - called Penny Lane (Hudson).
Wistful and cynical by turns, the film features some priceless moments - notably a blow-out argument on a plane caught in turbluence - and a heartbreaking breakthrough performance by Kate Hudson. There's no doubting the talents with which Crowe is loaded, but, in years to come, this will probably be looked back on as something he had to get out of his system rather than a key entry in his oeuvre.