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Film / Almost Famous

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William: What do you love about music?
Russell: To begin with... Everything.

Almost Famous is a 2000 coming-of-age film directed by Cameron Crowe, loosely based on Crowe's own teenage years as a music critic.

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 Bebe, 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; Jimmy Fallon has another small but meaty part as the record company guy who tries to push Stillwater into the big time.

This film provides examples of:

  • Acting Your Intellectual Age: William is a 15-year-old who's touring with a rock band.
    Penny: How old are you?
    William: Eighteen.
    Penny: Me too! (beat) How old are we really?
    William: Seventeen.
    Penny: Me too!
    William: Actually I'm sixteen.
    Penny: Me too! Isn't it funny? The truth sounds so different.
    William: (a little quieter) I'm fifteen.
  • 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.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: While dropping William off at a concert, his mother loudly calls out "Don't take drugs!" to him, to the mockery of the other concertgoers. Somewhat subverted in that the concertgoers think she's calling out to all of them, so Elaine ends up embarrassing herself and sparing William.
  • Answer Cut: In Topeka, when Russell has gone to the party with "real Topeka people" and taken acid, William calls Dick to let him know what's going on with Russell, and asks, "How do I know when the acid kicks in?" Cut to Russell standing on the roof of the house, yelling out, "I AM A GOLDEN GOD!"
  • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: More on the sweet side. Russell makes things right with William and Rolling Stone, finally grants William an interview, and the two part on good terms. William's Stillwater article is published, raising the band's profile, and officially establishing William as a rock journalist. William's mother and sister have reconciled. Penny embarks on her year in Morocco, signaling that she's ready to move on. On the bitter side, Russell's relationship with Leslie is over, and its presumed that he's lost any chance of a relationship with Penny. It's also assumed the band may not last much longer due to the tensions between Russell and Jeff. In the director's cut, Jeff and Russell have a heart-to-heart at the end of the tour that is civil, but still lined with uncertainty.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The fact that Penny and William both live in San Diego. This means that when at the end of the movie, Russell comes to San Diego and calls Penny and asks to see her, she can instead direct him to William's house.
  • 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.
  • Deathbed Confession: Once the airplane hits turbulence, everyone starts confessing secrets. Though it's just a close call - and once things go back to normal, there's an uncomfortable silence, not helped by the last thing said.
  • 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-along 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.
    • Simon and Garfunkel's "America" starts out playing in-universe as Anita puts the record on the turntable, then becomes background music in the next scene as Anita leaves the house.
  • Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: Russell Hammond does this when he finally sits down to give William an interview. Note how he's initially sitting normally, only to flip the chair around when William busts out the tape recorder and starts interviewing him about music.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: When Penny Lane says her first line ("Not a what?"), she emerges from a poorly-lit area to the bright light of a street light. This marks her out as a more important character than all the other Band-Aids standing at the top of the ramps.
  • 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. Not so much later; he has truly acclimated by the time he says "I have to go home" and Penny tells him "You are home."
  • Gallows Humor: At the first sign of turbulence on their plane, Russell Hammond starts singing the song "Peggy Sue" by famous rock-star-who-died-in-a-plane-crash Buddy Holly.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    • Lester Bangs walks and talks with William for a while, then says goodbye, shrugs, and says "I can't just stand around talking to my many fans." Cut to Lester and William eating in a diner, having clearly talked for hours.
    • Russell has taken a lot of acid at a party. William, calling back to the band's hotel, asks "How do you know when the acid has kicked in?" Cut to Russell standing on the roof of the house screaming "I am a golden god!"
  • 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."
  • 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 Groupies Band 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: Stillwater's new manager does not appreciate how long '60s rock acts will hang around.
    "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."
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: One of the band members bets their groupies.
  • 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.
  • Match Cut: The film ends with a match cut from Russell's cab driving away from William's house, to Stillwater's bus driving away on some random two-lane country road.
  • 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.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Russel had it on his face when he learned it was William who saved Penny from her overdose, and he learned this after he royally nuked his journalist career. He does make it right in the end though.
  • 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.
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: The bassist has about three lines of dialogue and just stands there. A deleted scene even shows how William struggles to get something out of him...
  • 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.
    • Sapphire gets this when she asks the woman on the phone if she's "Elaine with the pot" but it's actually William's mom.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The last shot is Doris the bus, carrying Stillwater down the road on the 1974 tour.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Penny Lane keeps her real name a secret, because it's an Embarrassing First Name: "Lady Goodman?!?!?"
  • Out of Focus: In-Universe, and literally. The delivery of Stillwater T-shirts, with a printing error in which only Russell is in focus, leads to an argument in which Jeff complains about falling invokedOut of Focus as Russell is becoming the face of the band.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Jeff, the lead singer, is this with respect to Russell, and he's not happy about it. At all.
  • Photo Montage: Throughout the movie Penny Lane is seen snapping photos with a Polaroid. Penny's photos are all shown over the closing credits.
  • Professional Voice Dissonance: William tries to use a deeper voice while on the phone with the editor at Rolling Stone in order to hide the fact that he's only 16. This backfires eventually, as the editor starts to think that his unnaturally deep voice is from pot use and tells him to clean up his act, as they don't need another Hunter S. Thompson.
  • Pun: The band's name is Stillwater. The Rolling Stone article? "Stillwater Runs Deep".
  • 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.
    • According to Cameron Crowe in the director's commentary, his older sister and her family are the people in the elevator with David Bowie in the Cleveland hotel.
  • "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!
    • And just before that, Jeff gives one to Russell.
    Jeff I don't love you man, I never did - NONE of us love you! You act above us; you always have. You just held it over us that you MIGHT leave, like we're lucky to be with you, and we had to live with it man, I had to live with you, and now I might die with you and it's NOT FUCKING FAIR!
    • Sapphire gives one to Russell both for his rejection of Penny and his destruction of William's career by lying about him making his story up.
  • Round Hippie Shades: Penny Lane wears these (and one of the advertising posters was a closeup of Kate Hudson wearing them.)
  • 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.
    • 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: 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?
    Dick: Yeah.
    Russell: Just rapping. Bob Dylan at our fucking table.
    • "Stillwater" is possibly a play on Creedence Clearwater Revival, and maybe Crosby, Stills & Nash.note 
    • 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.
    • Stillwater's album covers are based on those of The Allman Brothers Band, with Billy Crudup looking like a doppelganger of Dickey Betts.
    • 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 
    • Two-for-one in the scene where young William and his mom are discussing To Kill a Mockingbird while a theater marquee behind them is advertising François Truffaut's Stolen Kisses.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Stevie Wonder's dreamily romantic "My Cherie Amour" plays as William watches Penny get her stomach pumped following her overdose on pills.
  • Straight Gay: The drummer's one line, said as he thinks they're all going to die, is to scream that he's gay. No one would be able to tell otherwise.
  • Tempting Fate: In the airplane scene, as soon as turbulence hits Russell does a deliberate case of this by singing Buddy Holly, who died in a plane crash.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: When William tells Stillwater they're going to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, Jeff starts geeking out, and then leads the band and their friends into an impromptu version of "The Cover of the Rolling Stone".
  • This Is Unforgivable!: When Russel tanks William's credibility for saying his article was fake, Penny took it as the final nail and moves on from him. Her last message to him was an address to William's home, signifying that she's done with him, but William deserves an apology.
  • 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. (Kate Hudson was 20 during production.)
  • Visual Title Drop: Sign on the front of the Stillwater tour bus.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Russell and Jeff. They're clearly the creative nucleus of the band, but between Jeff's insecurities and Russell's narcissism, there's a great deal of tension and resentment between the two. It really comes to a head when Jeff admits to sleeping with Russell's wife and claims he never "loved" Russell.
  • 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".


Video Example(s):


Almost Famous- Tiny Dancer

"Tiny Dancer" goes from being played in the background to being sung by those on the bus.

How well does it match the trope?

4.83 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / LeftTheBackgroundMusicOn

Media sources: