Written and Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Philip Seymour Hoffman
My Advice: Don’t Miss It.
William Miller (Fugit) is a young aspiring writer who is given music by his sister (Zooey Deschanel) as a parting gift when she runs off with her boyfriend to escape their mother (McDormand), who isn’t exactly domineering–let’s just say she cares a lot. He takes the music and makes it his life, and at the age of fifteen, William meets Lester Bangs (Hoffman). Bangs, an editor for Creem magazine gives William his first assignment–to write an article on Black Sabbath. While trying to get into the concert, he meets not only the band Stillwater but also their lead “band-aid”, Penny Lane (Hudson). His relationships with Lane, the band, and music journalism all come to a head as this young man comes of age on Stillwater’s tour.
[ad#longpost]Before we begin, let me confess something to you. That’s right, it’s confession time. This movie assaulted me on three fronts. First of all, I do consider myself to be a journalist of some sort. Second, I have been involved in three different bands in my time. And three, I have been told by a beautiful blonde woman while riding on a bus that I was home. So you’ll forgive me if this film hits a little closer to heart than most. But you couldn’t just slap these three things together and expect it to have it an effect on myself, much less on anyone else, unless you also had the characters to bring the story across. Depth of character is one of the things that Crowe does best. Even tertiary characters with little to no backstory, that simply come in and out of the film, such as those played by Fairuza Balk and Anna Paquin, feel three dimensional. This is rare in a world where Hollywood keeps turning out cookie cutter films with equally debilitating paper thin characters. True, the cast is stacked with talent, but you have to have something to work with; so I’m very pleased that Crowe won the Oscar, because he deserved it.
With an ensemble this good, it’s hard to identify a standout. Although a Fugit does an exceptional job of holding his own considering those around him, we must still focus attention on a couple of people who manage to shine even among the diamonds. The idea that Hoffman took a role and made it his own–this is nothing new, he does this in every film. But the fact that he does this repeatedly, professionally, with little to no repetition–is unique and astounding. Whereas Fugit and McDormand are playing stylized, fictional versions of Crowe and his mother–Hoffman is playing a real person, whom Crowe knew personally. Based on what I’ve seen and read about Bangs and Crowe’s own comments, Hoffman nails it–and absolutely no one is surprised.
Also, I’d like to point out Kate Hudson. Close inspection of her performance reveals it to be one of those that looks so easy–because she’s working so hard. So many subtle, amazing things are accomplished with her characterizations–all signs of a great actress who has heretofore been trapped in such vehicles as 200 Cigarettes and the like. Welcome, Kate, to the real world.
Add to this a soundtrack that is simply superb and you have a film that, although criminally underappreciated and underviewed at the box office, will stand the test of time because it captured the feel and the sound of a certain era of rock and roll–and most importantly, how it shaped people’s lives. One of the best films of the year, highly recommended and worth multiple viewings.