Set in 1973, “Almost Famous” chronicles the coming of age of 15-year-old William (Patrick Fugit), an unabashed music fan who is inspired by the seminal bands of the time. When his love of music lands him an assignment from Rolling Stone magazine to interview the up-and-coming band Stillwater, William embarks on an eye-opening journey with the band’s tour, despite the objections of his protective mother (Frances McDormand).
About every hundred movies or so, I get to see an “oh, yeah” movie. You know, one of those character-driven films that entertains not with car chases or flatulence jokes, but with sparkling dialogue and mesmerizing performances. A film that contains a life-lesson reminding us that true happiness comes not from what we can get, but what we give. Director Cameron Crowe (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) gives a powerful, yet personal coming-of-age film that focuses attention on personalities rather than special effects. His inspired use of camera, music, and Oscar-worthy performances help highlight this tale of self-discovery. It is the most perfectly cast movie I can remember, for each actor astounds, from the briefest cameo to young Patrick Fugit’s extremely likable protagonist. It captivates from the impressive opening credits to the final uplifting moments.
That said, I must clarify that I am not recommending “Almost Famous” for family viewing. It is rated R, and although the content is not exploitive, but rather used to further this story of road life with an up-and-coming ‘70s band, the fact remains that objectionable language, drug use and sexual activity are a part of this film. “Well, how could they have given a true account of the ‘70s rock culture without showing this content?” Believe me, I hear that question concerning every subject matter Hollywood now addresses. Yet, the same themes have already been related in classic films. Judy Garland’s “A Star Is Born” for example, deals with the underbelly of celebrity. But it implies much without graphically showing the coarser side of life. “But Phil, the coarser side of life is a reality.” True enough, but expressing it in nearly every film doesn’t seem to be uplifting the spirit of man, does it? I maintain that the purpose of art is not merely to reveal what life is, but to exemplify what it could be.
As a film critic, I honestly enjoyed this film. I love good dialogue, sensitive performances and an observant story that’s about something. “Almost Famous” has all that. And one thing that pleased me greatly was the fact that I didn’t catch any misuse of God’s name. You’ll be hearing much praise from secular reviewers and, come Oscar time, it will deservedly obtain nominations in several categories. But while it doesn’t glorify drug use, it does depict it, along with 29 uses of one particular swear word, many other obscenities, and much sexuality.
In Romans 12:2 it says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” There are some very positive messages in this film, including the importance of family and upbringing, decency being more important than fame, and as Frances McDormand’s character keeps reminding her son, “Don’t do drugs.” But because we as a nation have continuously supported lesser films with R rated material, now most “serious” films fall into that category. The art of today’s storytelling would be lost if it didn’t contain offensive language, exploitive sex, or brutal violence.
Christ commands us to follow a certain standard not out of piety, but as a reflection of what we believe. Films can teach, entertain and lift the spirit. Indeed, they are modern-day parables. And you know who told parables every time He preached! Alas, a new morality clearly exists in our society, with the casual presentation of something anti-biblical abundant in most TV programs and films. As society slips further and further away from the fundamentals of right and wrong, we who follow biblical teachings will seem even more peculiar. I hope we all remember that the Bible doesn’t apply to parts of our lives, but to the sum total – including how we entertain ourselves. If we govern what we support at the box office, it is honoring to God, nurturing to loved ones, and a guidepost to those who scrutinize our walk.