Hitting the road when rock was young

Almost Famous" is a perfect title for the Cameron Crowe film that premired at the Toronto festival, since the main characters are exactly that. One hero (Patrick Fugit) is a rock-music journalist still in high school. The other heroes (Billy Crudup, Jason Lee) are members of a band that has some momentum but still needs an expert manager and a little more talent.

And then there's Penny Lane, a teenage groupie (Kate Hudson) who thinks she's not a groupie but a muse, inspiring the band. She's the least likely to become actually famous because she's never dreamed she might be worthy of the honor. Her lack of self-esteem makes her the movie's saddest character.

With its imaginative screenplay and silky-smooth style, "Almost Famous" is the latest in a string of first-rate rock movies that have been shaking up screens since the 1950s. Director Crowe has done almost everything right, from discovering an excellent new star (Fugit) to filling the soundtrack with rock classics from Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie to, no kidding, David Seville and the Chipmunks. Realizing that social attitudes have changed a lot since 1973, when the movie is set, Crowe's provided an on-screen mother to worry and warn about rock-scene decadence. She's played by Frances McDormand with the wry matronliness of her great "Fargo" performance. Acting honors also go to Philip Seymour Hoffman as legendary rock critic Lester Bangs.

Veterans of the 1960s and '70s will find that "Almost Famous" captures both the raging excesses of that era and the keen-eyed alertness that allowed some savvy youngsters to survive and even profit from the scene. Everyone will find that Crudup and Fugit are qualified to drop the "almost" in their own quests for celebrity. They're among the reasons "Almost Famous" should be a full-fledged hit.

*Rated R; contains strong sexual innuendo and drug use.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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