(In theaters, December 2000) Cameron Crowe strikes me as a writer/director with interesting things to say, but not always as successful in actually delivering a coherent finished product. Jerry Maguire seemed to invent plot difficulties in thin air and if Almost Famous is a more accomplished film, it does seems forced at times. (That it is “based on a true story” is a feeble defense for structural flaws. If you’re going to invent Stillwater, it would have been justified to boost the dramatic content of their struggles, who here appear rather underwhelming.) This being said, Almost Famous is a tremendously enjoyable film, which will undoubtedly work wonders on members of the generation depicted in the film. Younger viewers won’t feel as concerned. Some funny scenes, some poignant moments and some astute lines (destined to be quoted for years to come; “You do not make friends with the rock stars.”) all mix up, as with Jerry Maguire, to deliver a film that will please many different audiences at the risk of feeling somewhat unfocused itself.
(Second viewing, On DVD, August 2002) I’m not sure if it’s because of the 35 minutes of extra footage, my own more reasonable expectations or the great commentary track, but Untitled (the “bootleg” director’s cut of Almost Famous) seems far more compelling than the original film. In many ways, this is a film best seen at home rather than in theaters; not only does in now clock at 160+ minutes, but it is far moodier and closer to its characters, which might play better in a small context. Acting credits are excellent across the board, especially with Kate Hudson, whose performance seems more remarkable here than in the shorter cut. The DVD edition offers several extras, the most unique being the long (ten minutes) “Stairway to Heaven” deleted scene which requires you to play along. Also included is a short “Stillwater” audio CD as well as a wonderful audio commentary with not only director Cameron Crowe (whose loosely adapted teenage years formed the nucleus for the film), but also his mother, who proves to be as formidable a character as Frances McDormand’s film depiction. What else can I say, besides strongly recommending it?