Almost Famous is a 2000 comedy-drama film written and directed by Cameron Crowe and telling the fictional story of a teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone magazine while covering a rock band Stillwater, and his efforts to get his first cover story published. Almost Famous is semi-autobiographical, as Crowe himself was a teenage writer for Rolling Stone.
Almost Famous is based on Crowe’s experiences touring with rock bands The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. In a Rolling Stone article, he talks about how he lost his virginity, fell in love, and met his heroes, experiences that are shared by William, the main character in the film.
Despite being a box office bomb, Almost Famous received good reviews. It received four Oscar nominations, one of which led to an award to Crowe for his screenplay. Almost Famous was also awarded the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. Roger Ebert hailed Almost Famous the best movie of the year. Almost Famous also won two Golden Globes, for Best Picture and Kate Hudson won Best Supporting Actress.
Almost Famous Plot
In 1973, William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is a 15-year-old boy aspiring to be a rock journalist, despite the desires of his eccentric, overprotective mother, Elaine (Frances McDormand), who wants him to go into law. Shunned by his classmates (most of whom are two or three years older than he is), he writes for underground papers in his hometown, San Diego.
He goes one morning to watch as a local radio station interviews pioneering rock journalist Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The two hit it off, and Bangs gives William a $35 assignment to write up a Black Sabbath concert. William, without credentials or a ticket, cannot get into the arena. He meets up with some semi-groupies who call themselves “Band-Aides,” named Estrella Starr (Bijou Phillips), Polexia Aphrodisia (Anna Paquin), and Sapphire (Fairuza Balk), as well as their leader, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). Then he runs into the opening band on the card, Stillwater, who are running late. At first they dismiss him as a journalist, “the enemy”, but when he calls them by their names and praises their most recent work in detail, they realize that he is a genuine fan and allow him backstage.
A week or so later, he goes with Penny (deceiving his mother) to the “Riot House” – the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. He first meets Vic Munoz (Jay Baruchel), an extreme Led Zeppelin fan with a bad stutter, who follows them all over the country, and they are soon in a room with Stillwater. Penny goes off with the band’s “guitarist with mystique”, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), to a vending room. William is beginning to appear jealous.
William is called by Ben Fong-Torres (Terry Chen), editor of Rolling Stone. They have read his material and want him to do a story. However, Ben is under the impression that William is several years older than he really is. William does nothing to disillusion Ben and manages to convince Ben to let him do a story on Stillwater for much more money than he would have expected. William has to follow Stillwater on their tour in order to interview the band members for the story. This causes him to miss school and ultimately his high school graduation.
Elaine consents, under strict conditions (which, to her chagrin, will be repeatedly violated). Penny and other Band-Aides will be riding the band’s beloved tour bus, “Doris,” as well. William tries to get interviews with each band member, but his attempts to interview Russell are repeatedly frustrated. The young journalist witnesses Russell receive a severe electric shock on stage in Phoenix, which infuriates the band and their manager, causing them to leave the show without finishing their set and to drive through a large metal gate to get out of the venue. A new band T-shirt showing the band (with all members but Russell out of focus) sparks a bitter argument between lead singer Jeff (Jason Lee) and Russell, with Jeff angry that what was once “The Jeff Bebe Band” is now dominated by Russell. In reaction, Russell and William go off to a teenage house party so Russell can be with people who are “real.” Tripping on acid, Russell climbs onto the roof of the house where he screams “I am a golden god!” and dives into the pool. Everyone else at the party follows suit and also dives into the pool. William calls for the band bus to come by the house, and Russell is persuaded to get on the bus. It is made clear that, however much they might argue, the band is a family.
Both Penny and Russell know that Penny must leave the tour before New York, where Leslie, Russell’s girlfriend, will be joining the tour. During a poker game, he allows the manager to put up the groupies as a stake. The band loses the groupies to the band Humble Pie for $50 and a case of Heineken beer. When William tells Penny about this, she acts nonchalant but is devastated.
Penny goes to New York on her own anyway, and, as the band celebrates in a restaurant together with Russell’s girlfriend, Penny shows up in the background. It is clear that Penny is making Leslie uncomfortable because she speaks up and the band manager Dick Roswell (Noah Taylor) asks her to leave. William goes to Penny’s room and finds her overdosed on methaqualone. While trying to wake her up, he tells her he loves her and goes where “many, many men have gone before” and kisses her. William calls a doctor, who comes and pumps her stomach.
On a plane ride to another concert the band’s plane is caught in poor weather and looks like it will have to make a crash landing. Believing they will all die, the band members and entourage start confessing their secrets. When Jeff and Russell start arguing, and Penny is referred to as “that groupie”, William, to the surprise of all, defends Penny and speaks his anger that the band used her, declaring his own love for her. The plane lands safely, leaving all to ponder the changed atmosphere.
William must continue on to San Francisco to finish the story. As he is leaving to fly to San Francisco, Russell tells him to go ahead and write whatever he wants. William, still upset about Penny, does write what he wants: the truth in its entirety. The Rolling Stone editors love the story and can’t wait to publish it, but first they have to ask the band to verify it. The band, fearful of the effect the article will have on their image, denies everything. William is crushed and the story is dead. While sitting dejected in the airport, he sees his sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel), who had left both home and Elaine to become a stewardess. They go back home together, and William stages a reconciliation.
While backstage at the Miami Orange Bowl back on the Stillwater tour, Sapphire (Fairuza Balk) talks to Russell about Penny’s near-suicide and how despite the many warnings she received about having too many people fall in love with her, one of them ended up saving her life. Russell is initially curious about the person Sapphire talks about (William), but Sapphire immediately chastises him, saying that everyone, including Penny, knows what Russell and the band did to him and how awful they think it is. Russell then calls Penny and asks for her address, telling her that he wants to meet. Instead she gives him William’s address in an attempt to solve the conflict between them. Russell goes to the house thinking it’s Penny’s but finds Elaine instead. Upon learning who he is, she sends him in to see William. The two of them reconcile and Russell finally gives William the long overdue interview. He then reveals that he called Rolling Stone and told them that William’s story is true.
The final scenes of Almost Famous are a picture of the cover of the Rolling Stone issue that will feature William’s story with Russell’s picture on the front with the rest of the band behind him. We then see images of Penny leaving on her dream trip to Morocco, William at home with his sister and mother, and of Doris, which will take the band (without William) on its 1974 tour (with the marquee “NO MORE AIRPLANES TOUR 1974”). Though, as Bangs suggested, rock ‘n’ roll may be changing from an art form to a profit center, it is implied that at least Stillwater will be immune from this.