Almost Famous

Almost Famous ★★★★½

I think you're obliged to write reviews of Almost Famous (or Untitled, in the extended cut that I watched) while listening to Tiny Dancer on repeat, so I am. I suppose you should read it under the same conditions.

There are few things that I like in movies more than a scene with a really wonderful song. The song shouldn't just lay there, nor should it be a crutch on which the film can rest for a few minutes while the music does all the heavy lifting (this changes a bit for straight-up musicals, of course). No, for a song scene to be truly great it must interact with the film, lending its transcendence to the actors, the director, the editor in return for forever losing a piece of itself to the movie it has become a part of. I can't listen to "Hurdy Gurdy Man" without some of the fear from Zodiac creeping in along with those haunting, echoing lyrics. "O Children" has forever become a song about two young adults taking a brief respite from saving the world to be real people. And now, "Tiny Dancer" will be about letting go of all the junk that we throw into our lives, all the pettiness with which we treat each other, and just embracing being alive, in our times and in our places and with the people around us. As the band and hangers-on join in with Elton John one by one the audience, too, follows suit and gets carried away in the moment. It's a wonder.

And so is the rest of the film. Nothing in it quite reaches the heights of that scene, though a few come close - the "What kind of beer" shot is practically Oscar worthy - and it somehow manages to overcome a pretty bloated length at two hours and forty minutes to be compelling throughout. Patrick Fugit is the Cameron Crowe stand-in and performs his job mostly admirably. There are a few spots where he's just not as good as those around him (see again the "What kind of beer" scene), but for the most part he plays the observer very well. The length and lumpy shape of this extended cut feels right for the movie Crowe is making, too, since he is attempting to capture his entire adolescence on screen and make a movie about such a large topic as Rock and Roll (capital letters necessary). The film begins to feel like one of those jam bands of the time, loose and relaxed, playing a note and coming back to it from a different angle to serve a different purpose a few scenes later. The movie doesn't move, it develops like a Polaroid, kind of all at once and slowly gaining greater contrast and clarity. Only at the end does it really show its full self, a sprawling epic road trip and a simple story about a boy becoming a man. The Polaroid is populated by a dozen famous and not so famous actors, Billy Crudup and Frances McDormand playing opposing influences on young William Miller while Kate Hudson gives a career best portrayal of fandom personified. There are a bunch of in jokes that I didn't fully grasp since I am not huge fan of this era of music, and some of the dialogue is clunky, especially when it makes fun of the things that will happen in the future ("Flying cars!"). Still, even these flaws don't detract. This is movie about one man by that man, and it is so well told that the dings make it all the more human than it already is. This was a fantastic end to my Musical marathon, and I'm glad I finally watched it.