OK, so Aloha wasn’t so hot. But it also clearly wasn’t the product of any sort of cookie cutter. It’s a mess, but it’s also the kind of mess only a filmmaker with a distinctive sensibility can make. It’s been a while since Cameron Crowe has been able to translate that sensibility into a first-rate movie, but let’s go back a bit to the early 2000s when, operating at the height of his powers, Crowe released Almost Famous, a journey through the world of ’70s rock ‘n’ roll drawn from Crowe’s own experiences as a teen journalist. Patrick Fugit plays William Miller, a 15-year-old rock obsessive assigned to follow Stillwater, a rock band on the cusp of stardom.
Stillwater’s not-quite-there status isn’t the only element of the film that connects to the title. Over the course of the film, William gets to know others on the periphery of fame, including the principled, “uncool” rock critic Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his best performances), to Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a hanger-on who resents the word “groupie.” He also learns that the love of music can take as much—or more—than it gives those who live for it. Crowe gets tagged as a sentimentalist, sometimes justifiably, but part of what makes Almost Famous so effective is the way it captures the despair just beneath the surface of the passion that drives everyone involved. It’s a remarkable film in a notable career whose reputation deserves to survive the missteps of recent years. Almost Famous plays at 10 p.m. Eastern on SundanceTV.