Russell: To begin with... Everything.
Set in The '70s, the film follows the experiences of Author Avatar William Miller (Patrick Fugit), an aspiring teenage rock journalist who gets sucked headfirst into the world of rock when he goes on tour with a band named "Stillwater". In addition to the band itself, he becomes acquainted with its groupies and gets a good look at what happens underneath the glamorous exterior that most people are presented with.
Kate Hudson and Billy Crudup star as, respectively, head groupie Penny Lane and her lover Russell, the lead guitarist for Stillwater. Jason Lee plays Jeff Beebe, Stillwater's lead singer. Anna Paquin plays Polexia, another groupie. Frances McDormand and Zooey Deschanel play William's mother and sister. Philip Seymour Hoffman has a small but meaty part as Real Life rock journalist Lester Bangs.
This film provides examples of:
- Acting Your Intellectual Age: William is a 15-year-old who's touring with a rock band.
- Adorkable: William.
- Age Cut: From William as an 11-year-old to William as a 15-year-old post-pubescent aspiring rock journalist.
- Almighty Mom: William's mom takes no shit from anybody.
- Ascended Fanboy: William in-universe.
- Author Avatar: William Miller = Cameron Crowe.
- Author Appeal: Crowe has long believed in The Power of Rock, and that's summed up near the end, when Sapphire is slamming the other groupies (as opposed to other Band-Aids like her):Sapphire: They don't even know what it is to be a fan. Y'know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Inverted. Cameron Crowe in real life becomes William Miller in the movie.
- Bare Your Midriff: Penny and Sapphire are dressed this way throughout the movie.
- Christmas In September: William's mother does this so they can celebrate the holiday "without commercialism".
- Corrupt the Cutie: In the director's cut, there is an early scene of Polexia circling William at a party like a shark as she talks about the mechanics of seduction. She ends up taking William's virginity later on.
- Creator Cameo: That's Cameron Crowe's hand writing names on a notepad in the opening credits.
- Crowd Song: A very famous example as the whole crowd on the bus sings "Tiny Dancer".
- Dead Air: During a radio interview scene where the overnight DJ, higher than a very high thing, falls asleep and the band being interviewed realizes the air is dead. Not for long, though.
- Deconstruction: This entire film is a deconstruction on the illusion of rock-star life. It seems glamorous at first, but then the fame starts getting to your head and you start doing stupid things that you would never do in the right mind. Fame leads to an illusion of invulnerability and often creates tension between band members (often brought on by record execs to force them to create a big radio hit against the will of the band member's better judgement or creative being all for the sake of profit). It just goes to show that the rock-star life is nothing more than a gilded cage.
- Diegetic Switch: The famous "Tiny Dancer" sing-a-long is a reversed example of this. When the song starts it's clearly soundtrack music: the opening bars start before Russell gets on the bus and continue as the bus leaves Topeka and reaches Kansas farmland. Then, when the drummer starts beating time with the song, it becomes clear that the song is playing on the bus as diegetic music.
- Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: Russell Hammond does this when he finally sits down to give William an interview.
- Ensemble Dark Horse: The in-universe example of Russell Hammond, who upstages the band leader without even trying. One of the incidents exposing the underlying tension within the band is when their first T-shirts prominently feature him instead of the lead singer.
- Fanboy/Fangirl: Numerous, numerous in-movie examples.William: Don't you have any regular friends?
Penny: Famous people are just more interesting.
- Fish out of Water: At first, William, off on adventure with Stillwater.
- Groupie: The film revolves much around the 1970s groupie scene.
- Groupie Brigade: "IT'S BOWIE!" Cue horde of groupies chasing after Bowie.
- Homage: In addition to many events taken directly from real life (e.g. the scene where the band's plane almost crashes happened while director Crowe was touring with The Who), the movies is full of homages to rock bands and albums. The scene where one of the Stillwater members is shocked by his microphone is a possible shout out to Keith Relf of the Yardbirds, who died after being electrocuted by improperly grounded music equipment. Some scenes are also framed to look like or include references to album covers, such as a shot of the crowd at the first Stillwater concert that's made to look like the cover to Neil Young's "Time Fades Away."
- Incredibly Lame Pun: The band's name is Stillwater. The Rolling Stone article? "Stillwater Runs Deep".
- Insistent Terminology: The groupies are not groupies. They are, in fact, "band-aids."
- Intoxication Ensues: "I AM A GOLDEN GOD!"
- Ironic Echo: "Here I am, telling secrets to the one person I shouldn't be telling them."
- The Ishmael: The movie is told from the viewpoint of William, but the core of the story is the discoveries he has about the band and their
GroupiesBand Aids. The real character journeys are Russell and Penny as they deal with their place in the band and rising stardom.
- It Will Never Catch On:"If you think Mick Jagger will still be out there trying to be a rock star at age fifty, then you are sadly, sadly mistaken."
- Lennon Specs: Penny Lane wears these (and one of the advertising posters was a closeup of Kate Hudson wearing them.)
- Lost Him in a Card Game: One of the band members bets their groupies.
- *sigh* It's Band-aid!
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Just a few: William, Penny, Russell Hammond, Elaine, Jeff Bebe, Anita, Sapphire, Dick, Lester Bangs and Ben Fong-Torres.
- Love Martyr: Penny is prepared to devote her life to Russell, even though he's married; he uses her as a stake in a card game, and doesn't shed a single tear for her when he loses the game and has to give her up. As she is overdosing on quaaludes after Russell rejects her, she asks William "Why doesn't he love me?"
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Penny Lane is a deconstruction of this — she uses her quirky, upbeat attitude to hide her inner loneliness and hurt, something that becomes painfully apparent at the end of the movie. Unsurprisingly, it was a later Cameron Crowe film that inspired the Trope Namer. Crowe is awfully fond of this trope.
- My Beloved Smother: Elaine, William's mother, though subverted to some degree: She's portrayed sympathetically.
- Cameron Crowe's mother was on the set for most of the scenes "she" was in, and participated in the DVD Commentary.
- Nature Abhors a Virgin/Three-Way Sex: "Let's deflower the kid." Multiple Band-Aids then group together to deflower William in a scene that ends with a Sexy Discretion Shot.
- Not on the List: William can't get backstage at a show until Stillwater gets him in.
- Nothing but Hits: Anita leaves William her record collection, which apparently consists entirely of well-known, critically-acclaimed rock albums that have stood the test of time and remain instantly recognizable to contemporary audiences.
- Semi-averted with the actual soundtrack to the movie, with throws in such lesser-known gems as Cat Stevens' "The Wind" and The Beach Boys' "Feel Flows" alongside the expected classics.
- Not-So-Final Confession: The scene where a plane apparently is about to crash during a thunderstorm, and passengers thinking they'll die start this.
- Oh, Crap!: One of the Stillwater band members mentions to William how they had a fun tour. "Hey, we did everything but get you laid." Notices the smile on William's face and has this look as he realizes one of the, ahem, "band aids" did that already.
- In the director's cut, this is William's reaction to realizing just how many of the Band-Aids made use of him.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Penny Lane keeps her real name a secret, because it is...
- Embarrassing First Name: "Lady Goodman?!?!?"
- Overshadowed by Awesome: Jeff, the lead singer, is this with respect to Russell, and he's not happy about it. At all.
- The Quiet One: Stillwater's drummer. His only line happens to be utterly hilarious.
- In the director's cut, the band manager claims that Silent Ed is the favorite member of true Stillwater fans.
- Real Person Cameo: Cameron Crowe's mother is handing out diplomas at the graduation ceremony that William Miller misses.
- William sees Jann Wenner in the back seat of a cab while he's chasing after Penny.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: William gives an epic one to the band for their treatment of Penny. All while the plane they were on was hitting turbulence.William: "That groupie"? She was a Band-Aid! All she did was love your band. And you used her, all of you! You used her and threw her away! She almost died last night while you were with Bob Dylan. You guys, you're always talking about the fans, the fans, the fans; she was your biggest fan, and you threw her away! And if you can't see that, that's your biggest problem. And I love her! I love her!
- Rule of Pool: Russell Hammond takes a high dive and everyone else at the party joins in.
- Running Gag: Multiple people tell William that "I talked to your Mom, she freaked me out."
- "DON'T TAKE DRUGS!" A regular warning from William's mom.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Lester Bangs teaches William how to use this tactic to sucker editors.
- Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Not that William actively attempts to lose his virginity — that's taken care of for him.
- Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: Somewhat soft-pedaled as Stillwater doesn't get that drug-addled...but Russell does have rather unfortunate LSD experience and Penny OD's on tranquilizers near the end.
- Sexy Packaging: You see it on◊ video◊ first◊? Three guesses why you rented that film...
- Shout-Out: Numerous throughout the movie.
Russell: Hey, why didn't you come back to the party last night? Bob Dylan showed up. He was sitting at our table for what had to be an hour or something, right, Dick?
- Many real rock-and-roll personalities are actual characters in the movie, or implied to be just off-screen. Lester Bangs drops these left and right. Penny Lane is a nod to The Beatles and is also is loosely based on a real person. At one point William is trying to interview Black Sabbath. On a couple of different occasions, he encounters groupies chasing after David Bowie, Robert Plant, or Jimmy Page. And Penny is sold to Humble Pie.
Russell: Just rapping. Bob Dylan at our fucking table.
- "Stillwater" is possibly a play on Creedence Clearwater Revival, and maybe Crosby, Stills & Nash.
- On the DVD commentary, Crowe says the brief shot of a man and a woman playing guitar and singing in a hotel room are Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
- And in the same hotel, he is told to "Blow me!" by comedian Leonard Barr (the real Leonard Barr played Shady Tree in Diamonds are Forever.)
- Jason Lee looks like a doppelganger of Free-era Paul Rodgers.
- When Russell, stoned out of his mind, shouts "I'm a golden god!", it's a reference to a classic photograph of Robert Plant on the balcony of the then-Continental Hyatt House; Plant had just shouted the same phrase, and in the photo he does indeed look like one.note
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Stevie Wonder's dreamily romantic "My Cherie Amour" plays as William watches Penny get her stomach pumped following her overdose on pills.
- Title Drop: Sign on the front of the Stillwater tour bus.
- Vague Age: It's never stated just how old Penny is supposed to be. She claims to be as young as William in one scene, though it's Played for Laughs.
- Watch Out for That Tree!: Sapphire, while running alongside Stillwater's tour bus to give William a message, runs straight into a wall. Thankfully averted near the end of the movie where William runs along with Penny's plane as it takes off.
- Waxing Lyrical: Vic, a hardcore Led Zeppelin fan, wears a T-shirt with "Have you seen the bridge?" written on it.
- When Sapphire first appears, she yells out, "Does anybody remember laughter?", which was a lyric Robert Plant used to include in live performances of "Stairway to Heaven".
- Your Cheating Heart: Its gradually made clear that Russell is cheating on his wife, Leslie, with Penny while out on the road.
- During the airplane scene, Jeff confesses that he slept with Leslie behind Russells back, and that hes still in love with her. And right before that, three members of the band admit to their manager, Dick, that they all slept with his now ex-wife.