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Almost Famous

A great ensemble cast is more than the sum of its parts, and that is especially true of the motley crew that populates Cameron Crowe's valentine to his rock 'n' roll youth. The cast, assembled by Gail Levin, had to convincingly evoke an early '70s backstage milieu, with all its drugged torpor, free-floating hedonism, and tribal sexual codes. The diversity of the cast's age, experience, and type is striking, and fitting for an art in which personality matters at least as much as talent—indeed, in which personality is a form of talent.

Seasoned actor's actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Noah Taylor, Billy Crudup, and Frances McDormand are paired with newcomers Patrick Fugit and Kate Hudson, natural screen stealers Jason Lee and Anna Paquin, and curiosity Fairuza Balk. It's a cast that calls to mind (perhaps a little self-consciously) the tasty heterogeneity of Altman's Nashville, which brought together a similarly unlikely acting troupe around a music/business theme. And while writer/director Crowe takes a more straightforward storytelling approach than Altman did, his Almost Famous ensemble effectively fills the screen—in dumpy backstage areas, trendy restaurants, hotel poolsides, airports, on the tour bus—in a way that suggests a whole world outside the frame. These people have come from somewhere into the world of young rock critic William Miller—though where they're going, as Miller comes to learn, may be nowhere fast.

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