Almost Famous is a 2000 comedy-drama film written, co-produced, and directed by Cameron Crowe, telling the coming-of-age story of a teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone magazine while on the road with a fictitious 1970s rock band named Stillwater. The film is semi-autobiographical, Crowe himself having been a teenage writer for Rolling Stone.
The film received positive reviews, but failed to break even at the box office. It received four Oscar nominations, with Crowe winning one for best original screenplay. It also earned the 2001 Grammy Award Best Compilation Soundtrack Album. Roger Ebert hailed it the best film of the year.
In 1973 San Diego, California, William Miller (played by Patrick Fugit) is a teenaged aspiring rock journalist. His mother, Elaine (Frances McDormand), a local college professor with a mix of New Age and conservative beliefs, wants him to become a lawyer. Miller writes for local underground papers, sharing a love of rock music instilled in him through a gift of albums given by his sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel), before she left home in disgust over Elaine’s “house of lies.”
William has sent rock journalist Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) copies of his work, and Bangs gives William a $35 assignment to review a Black Sabbath concert. Bangs advises William not to befriend rock stars, and to be “honest and unmerciful” in his reviews. Without credentials, William cannot get backstage to the San Diego Sports Arena where the concert is taking place. Outside, he meets a few local groupies who call themselves “Band-Aids”, led by a young woman named Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). He also meets the opening band, Stillwater. They bring William backstage after he expresses admiration for their work. The guitarist, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), takes a liking to William.
William and Penny go to Hollywood to see Stillwater again. Penny serves as William’s chauffeur, but her real aim is to get close to Russell, for whom she has feelings and shares a past relationship. William is called by Ben Fong-Torres, editor of Rolling Stone, who wants William to write a story for the magazine. Ben, who does not realize that he is talking to a teenager, sends William on the road to write about Stillwater.
William goes on tour with Stillwater and the Band-Aids, promising to keep in contact with his worried mother. As a journalist, the band refers to William as “the enemy”, but they befriend him anyway, although Russell puts off giving William an interview. Russell receives an electric shock onstage in Phoenix, which infuriates their manager, Dick Roswell, causing them to abandon the show. In Topeka, Kansas, a new merchandise t-shirt for Stillwater showing Russell clearly in focus with the rest of the band comparatively out of focus and shadowed sparks an intense argument between lead singer Jeff and Russell. Russell and William then leave the area, going to a teenage house party so Russell can be with people who are “real”. Tripping on LSD, Russell climbs onto the roof, screaming “I am a golden god!” and instructing William to write that his last words were “I’m on drugs!” before jumping into the pool. During the tour, William forms a strong bond with Penny, to the point that they frequently discuss running away to Morocco together, but he does not have sex with her — he instead loses his virginity to the other Band-Aids.
The band continues with its tour and before one of the band’s concerts, William speaks with his very worried mother on the phone. Russell intervenes, snatching the phone from William and talking to Elaine. During the conversation, Elaine unwittingly reveals William’s true age and her plans for him to attend law school. A new manager, Dennis, is hired and insists that the band travel by plane instead of by bus. In Boston during a poker game, it becomes clear that Penny must leave the tour before New York City, where Leslie, Russell’s wife, will join the tour. During the game, Russell allows Dick to sell the Band Aids to Humble Pie for $50 and a case of Heineken. When William tells Penny, she acts nonchalant but is devastated. Penny travels to New York, showing up as the band gathers in a restaurant with Leslie. As they celebrate making the cover of Rolling Stone, Penny leaves as Leslie grows suspicious. William follows Penny to her hotel room, finding her overdosed on quaaludes. While trying to keep her awake he confesses he loves her and kisses her just before doctors arrive. Later, Penny reveals her real name to him, a secret she has told very few. Penny thanks William for saving her before returning home to San Diego. William stays with the band for the end of the stop in New York and then they all board their plane to fly home.
Stillwater’s plane is caught in a thunderstorm and loses altitude. With death apparently imminent, the band members confess their secrets, which provokes a series of quarrels, and Penny is then referred to by several in the band as “that groupie”. William angrily defends Penny, reminding the band that they declared they were “in this for the fans”, and Penny was their most adoring one. The plane emerges from the storm unharmed, leaving the band to ponder the changed atmosphere. William continues to San Francisco to finish the story, parting ways with the band. Russell tells him to write whatever he wants. William submits an article, but the Rolling Stone editors dismiss it as a “puff piece”. During a late-night call, Bangs advises William to be “honest and unmerciful”. William rewrites the article, telling the truth. The Rolling Stone editors are eager to publish it until the fact checker reports that the band has denied everything, making William look like a liar, and the story is dropped. Sitting dejected in the airport, William encounters his sister. Now a stewardess, she offers to take him anywhere; William chooses to return home, where he forces his mom and Anita to make up.
Russell calls Penny for her address so they can talk in person. Russell goes to the address she gave him, but it turns out to be William’s house. Russell and William reconcile, and Russell reveals that he called Rolling Stone to tell them William’s story was true. Russell finally gives William an interview. The film ends with William’s article being published as the cover story of Rolling Stone, Stillwater touring by bus, William sharing a meal with Elaine and Anita, and Penny buying a ticket to Morocco, where they originally planned to go together.
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Philip Seymour Hoffman, finally free of their control, R.I.P.