The Long Journey to the Middle

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool."- Almost Famous

In the year 2000, when I was but an impressionable youth yet to truly hit the rough patches of life, the movie Almost Famous arrived in cinemas. Judging by the trailers and the previous hits of Cameron Crowe, I knew I'd be seeing a good movie.

By the time the entire band was singing Tiny Dancer on their tour bus, I was hooked. Chills filled my entire body, tears swelled in the corner of my eyes, and I knew right then that this movie was going to on favorites list for years to come.

Sixteen years later, in what turned out to be one of the few times in my life I was right, Almost Famous remains as one of my top-five favorite films of all time. I make it a point to watch it at least once a year, perhaps more if I happen to catch it on television. As for that scene? It still evokes memories and chills in me to this day.

Little did we know at the time, but (as of this writing), Almost Famous would turn out to be Crowe's greatest cinematic achievement.

The film was semi-autobiographical in nature, as Crowe was once a young reporter with Rolling Stone Magazine. He had the opportunities to tour with many bands in the 70's. It is even said that the character of Russell was based on the late Glenn Frey. Crowe even wrote a moving tribute to Frey after the former Eagles band member recently passed away.

Almost Famous may have been the pinnacle of Crowe's career because of his intense personal attachment to the story. To that point in his career, Crowe really hadn't had a failure. Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Say Anything are both classics from the 1980's. Jerry Maguire delivered the money in the 90's. Things were only supposed to keep soaring after Almost Famous.

Then the slide began. Crowe's recent attempts of Elizabethtown, We Bought a Zoo, and Aloha, despite a fair amount of star power, have not lived up to expectations, critical or at the box office. Crowe had gone from a writer/director who always delivered to a writer/director that was being lambasted by studio executives during the great Sony hack of 2014.

What had happened? Were these movies really that bad? Short answer: no. All three of the aforementioned had moments of humor, scenes of sincerity, and genuine performances. Nothing about those movies, though, are iconic. There is no Lloyd Dobler with a boombox or stating "I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen." There is no "Show me the money!" or "You complete me." And there is certainly no "I am a Golden God!"

Which brings us back to Almost Famous. This is a film that is not only well-written and well-directed, but is littered with a cast gives amazing performances. Billy Crudup as guitar player Russell, balances the right amount of cool and brooding in this part. Kate Hudson delivers the best performance of her career as Penny Lane. Zooey Deschanel, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee this list can go on and on. An entire post could probably be spent on the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Lester Bangs. The acting in this film is top notch.

The journey of the fictional band Stillwater, of Penny Lane, and most importantly, of William Miller (Patrick Fugit) plays out right before our eyes. To me, there is so much that can be said about the closeness and dysfunction in a sequence of scenes in the last third of the movie. (SPOILER ALERTS ahead). First, after arriving in New York, the band discovers that William's relationship with the band has landed them on the cover of the Rolling Stone. Part of the brilliance of these sequence of events is the juxtaposition of what is supposed to be the pinnacle of the journey fighting against watching the entire bottom fall out of everything these people aspired to be. 

Leading to this:

I don't want to break down this scene any more than that, except to say that the three songs selected bring the scene to a perfect crescendo. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters by Elton John starts it off, Chicago's Colour My World follows up, and Stevie Wonder's My Cherie Amour brings it all home. The three songs amp up what is already a touching and dramatic scene.

[Sidenote: I will say that Cameron Crowe can still piece together a good soundtrack, even if his movies haven't been up to par.]

Almost Famous is still a movie that resonates deeply with me. There is something about the idea of perseverance, friendship, and love in this film that awakens inside of me the idea that we should all keep pursuing the things we want in life. These are qualities that can bring out the worst in us, but in the end are overpowered by the best in us. And that's what keeps us from being "one of the out-of-focus guys."

I'll see you all in Morocco.


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