By William Wolf

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Whether or not you have an affinity with rock, "Almost Famous," a hit when recently showcased at the 25th annual Toronto Film Festival, is such a pleasing and entertaining movie memoir that it transcends any particular genre. Writer-director Cameron Crowe takes us back in a fictional treatment of his start as an aspiring teenage writer trying to sell a story to Rolling Stone.

Crowe has found a most appealing alter ego in actor Patrick Fugit, who plays William Miller, a 15-year-old innocent who is as starry-eyed about journalism as he is about following a rock band led by Russell Hammond, portrayed convincingly by Billy Crudup. Through dogged determination and luck, Miller is admitted into the inner circle as part journalist, part groupie and part mascot. But woe to a guy, 15 or otherwise, who writes the truth. Philip Seymour Hoffman has an excellent turn as a cynic who keeps trying to bring to young Miller a sense of reality.

With insight and a lively music track, Crowe leads us into a world that is both exciting and dangerous. Kate Hudson, a compelling screen presence, makes the most of playing Penny Lane, a groupie who epitomizes the perils of being used by someone she idolizes. There is a tender relationship between her and Miller that contrasts to the cruel liaison she has with Hammond, who can easily flit from one groupie to another without worrying about the consequences.

The film is rich in period detail and photography to match, and it combines humor with a cold, objective eye that makes us see the lives depicted with perspective. Frances McDormand is well cast as Miller's doting, over-protective mom who is far removed from the milieu that has seduced her son. The film is peopled by colorful characters played to perfection by a strong cast. "Almost Famous" is one of the year's pleasant surprises. A DreamWorks Pictures release.


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