William Miller is a 15-year-old kid hired by Rolling Stone magazine to tour with and write about Stillwater, an up and coming rock band. This wonderfully witty coming-of-age film follows William as he falls face first to confront life, love, and lingo. Written by
When William is writing in the tub and Penny Lane walks in, Post-It Notes appear to be all over the tub. Post-it Notes were invented in 1977, and not released to the public until at least 1979. In the DVD commentary for "Untitled", Cameron Crowe says the notes are folded yellow legal paper. See more »
Here's Crowe's film about his own struggle between whether to write a puff piece (to entertain) and the incisive truth (to stimulate, inform, extend). The focus is also the method as the film itself is not at all true or insightful.
Instead, what we have is a very well-written, mostly competently executed feel-good story. Along the way, we have lovable characters, and situations pulled from the stock catalog. I liked an equivalent raw competence in "Autumn in New York," but there they weren't dishonest.
The dishonesty here is in the glossy romanticizing of the end of the rock era. GenXers who weren't there want to feel that it was all rather harmless so they couldn't have missed much important with their inconsequential music fads. Boomers, the real rock generation, don't want to be reminded that they balked upon being led to the cusp of a revolution. So the movie has a constituently for romanticizing rock, while castrating its power. America has a tradition of doing this to the past, beginning with Native Americans, who we disarm by nobilizing.
Crowe knows this -- he is after all here to push buttons and make money. But he is also an intelligent man, so has referenced his dilemma with his two alter egos: the kid and the Hoffman character. This latter, small role makes this film worth seeing, because it is explicitly self-referential. The reflection is the infilm characterization of the film as superficial.
Hoffman is a wonderful actor, and the role is exquisite, touching both on the issue of real journalism (merciless) contrasting with celebrity (here codified as "cool"). Starting around then, journalism was turned to the manufacturing of coolness outside the film industry, and Rolling Stone was the main pimp, sort of the Microsoft of cultural vapidity. Hoffman's character remains true, and though Crowe himself has sold out (taking the Rolling Stone route), he's honest enough to know and be explicit about it. For that, I tip my hat.
Some few things in the film rang true: we really did think that this music could "set you free," even Simon and Garfunkle (but not Elton John!). The stewardess costumes really were that doll-like. I appreciated the Eastern Airlines dressage (but it should have been on a 727, not a modern DC-10). Creem was indeed studied (but why not mention the more merciless and honest "Crawdaddy"?).
Some few things rankled. The airplane scene was just amaturish. McDormand's character was too one-dimensionally daft for this sometimes excellent actress. Drugs and misogyny were almost absent in this rosey story. It would have helped to describe why the world thought southern rock groups could revive genuine rock, and how that hope grew out of latent racism. A character reveals he is gay, but that word, nor any not derogatory, would not have been used then. We miss the often cruel harem politics that stressed the camp followers' alliances.
You can have Kate Hudson, and overlong fawning on her grin. I'll eagerly await Hoffman's next film, though.
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