Dogma (1999)

Dir. Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Chris Rock


Dogma was the most recently released film in Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse when my friends and I discovered the director. Coming on the heels of the critical success of Chasing Amy, Dogma represents a huge step forward for Smith and his brand of comedy. It is his first foray into bigger budget filmmaking, and it also shifts the focus largely away from the established world of his first three films, only tangentially tying back into them through the presence of Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith), this time cast as unlikely prophets. However, Dogma also represents a return to his past for Smith, as he wrote a draft of the screenplay before he filmed his debut Clerks, and only returned to the passion project when he felt that he had garnered enough technical know-how and industry clout to produce the film with the proper budget and production value. The final result is something of a mixed bag, not totally fitting in with Smith’s brand of lo-fi humor but also not divorcing itself enough from that milieu to be the successful action-comedy film that it wants to be. When reflected on in relation to the rest of Smith’s filmography, particularly his first five features and Clerks II, the movies that make up the accepted View Askewniverse, Dogma feels like an aborted foray down an unfamiliar, and possibly wrong, path.

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Dogma opens with fallen angels Bartleby (Affleck) and Loki (Damon) plotting a way to return to their home in Heaven, which they may have discovered after they are tipped off to the planned rededication of a New Jersey church by Cardinal Glick (George Carlin) as part of his new, image-conscious marketing campaign for the Catholic Church, Catholicism Wow! Through a loophole in Catholic dogma, the angels can enter the church in Red Bank, New Jersey on the day of its rededication and be forgiven of their sins, allowing them to re-enter Heaven, thus proving God fallible, and rending the fabric of the Universe and all existence therein. In order to prevent this cataclysm, Heavenly forces recruit Bethany (Fiorentino), a reluctant Catholic who works at an abortion clinic, to travel to New Jersey and stop the angels from reentering the church. Assisting Bethany in her journey are two prophets, the aforementioned Jay and Silent Bob, who serve as her guides from Illinois to their native Jersey, Rufus (Rock), the 13th apostle who was written out of the Bible, and who reveals to Bethany her true identity as a descendant of Jesus Christ’s family lineage, and several other Spiritual entities. They’re opposed by the demon Azrael (Jason Lee) and his trio of devilish hockey playing lackeys, who have secretly been guiding Bartleby and Loki all along for their own nefarious purposes. When all of the disparate parties arrive in Red Bank, a scene unfolds not unlike Armageddon and as the last scion of Christ, Bethany is the only one who has the power to save the Universe.

If the movie sounds ambitious, that’s because it is. As I mentioned, it was far and away the biggest project that Smith had tackled to that point in his career, with a larger cast, longer runtime, more locations, and more indirect approach to comedy than anything that had preceded it. However, rather than feeling like a culmination of everything that Smith had learned while working on his first three features, Dogma often feels like a rejection of those lessons. Smith has jettisoned his penchant for smaller indies in favor of action/comedy bombast, and the transition isn’t exactly smooth. Despite the personal nature of the project, and its lengthy gestation period, Dogma feels somewhat thrown together. It lacks the passion exhibited by the guerrilla filmmaking of Clerks and it doesn’t continue an exploration of the kinds of personal, emotional territory that Smith began to traverse with Chasing Amy. While that film found Smith beginning to peak as a screenwriter, with Dogma, he seems to have bitten off more than he can chew. There are too many characters involved in the film for the audience to become personally invested in any of them, and Smith doesn’t always do a great job of juggling the film’s multiple storylines and locations. Still though, I don’t think that tightening up the narrative would have improved Dogma, as it went through at least eight different variations before Smith settled on the final screenplay. The audacious scope of the film is part of its appeal, and it’s interesting to see the results of Smith’s first attempt to break out from his established niche. The fix for this film might have been in the works all along, however, as Smith reportedly shopped the film to other directors, including Robert Rodriguez, who turned it down citing Smith’s personal connection to the project as a reservation. I would be very interested in seeing what he would have done with this script, coming off of the schlocky, horror-action hybrid From Dusk Til Dawn.

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As intriguing as the prospect of a director slightly more suited to delivering on the promise of Dogma’s complex narrative and genre hybridity, I don’t know that it would have made up for some of the other major flaws that the film has. Overall, my biggest gripe with Dogma is that its cast is star-studded, but the big names are rarely used to their full potential. It may be the fault of the material that they were given to work with, but very few members of the cast are doing anything close to their best work in Dogma. Fiorentino is solid as the doubting, searching Bethany, but her performance isn’t memorable or dynamic. She gets a few scenes that indicate some depth as an actor, but overall her emotional and psychological journey are overshadowed by the mugging and zaniness that surround her character. Rock’s character, Rufus, is underdeveloped and doesn’t rise much above the level of a token black character, and his performance carries about as much enthusiasm as you might expect from the last sketch of the night on an episode of SNL. Rock isn’t the greatest traditional actor, but he is a gifted comedian, and it’s disappointing to see him fall as flat as he does delivering Smith’s dialogue. Selma Hayek appears half way through the film as a muse, Serendipity, whose role is to help provide Bethany with important information about her true identity, but again, she falls victim to underdevelopment. Her character is introduced in a strip club, and she’s largely used as eye candy throughout her brief appearances in the film. Mewes and Smith have a bigger part to play in this film than in the earlier View Askewniverse movies, but they don’t really bring anything new to their trademark roles.

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There are a few bright spots from a performance perspective. Alan Rickman is predictably great as the Metatron, God’s angelic messenger. His trademark sullen expression and exasperation are on full display as a condescending angel forced to deal with inferior humans. He brings a natural grace and poise to his performance that seems fitting for an angel. Conversely, Jason Lee is perfectly smarmy and calculating as the film’s primary villain, Azrael, a demon escaped from Hell with a penchant for central air and seer sucker suits. Lee again shows his ability to master Smith’s dialogue, and his performance as Azrael is my favorite in the film. He plays Azrael as sinister, but also charming, providing a much more nuanced character than do some of his more accomplished counterparts. This is one of the first films that I can remember seeing Lee in that really indicated he was able to craft a character, and that he would have a future as a mainstream actor outside of his collaborations with Smith. George Carlin’s Cardinal Glick is one of the film’s funniest characters, and even though Carlin isn’t stepping far afield from his stand-up routine, I could have used more of his character. Unfortunately, the most interesting characters in the film, including Azrael who should definitely be a more major presence, cede a great deal of screen time to the lesser developed and less dynamic characters. This imbalance is largely what I was referring to earlier when I mentioned that Smith has trouble juggling the film’s multiple storylines.

Affleck and Damon are enjoyable and multifaceted in their performances as the film’s main antagonists, but they’re both asked to do too much in carrying a film that just isn’t that good. I like Affleck a good deal in most of his performances, and he is pretty good here as Bartleby. Initially, Bartleby is the more level headed of the pair, attempting to reign in Loki’s murderous tendencies and keep him focuses on their mission. By film’s end though, the angels have switched moral positions, and Bartleby becomes obsessed with doling out lethal justice to sinning humans. Affleck handles this transition well, and his Bartleby is actually fearsome in the film’s climax, descending from the sky in golden armor, plucking up frightened humans and casually tossing them earthbound to an explosive and bloody end. Affleck had developed an edge to his performance style by this time, but unfortunately, Damon is less adept in the scenes that require him to play dark and villainous. Damon’s smirking visage is appropriate for Loki’s mischievous, trickster qualities, but when he actually follows through on the threats of his violence, the result is shocking but not quite believable. Still, the two have an obvious and natural chemistry, and their overall charm and ability to riff off of one another is a source of much of the film’s comedy.

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Unfortunately, outside of the relationship between Bartleby and Loki, and a few other standout instances that hit the nail on the head in their humorous critique of religion, Dogma just isn’t a particularly funny movie. Despite the assemblage of talent, Smith’s script doesn’t deliver on the comedy end. He attempts to balance high-minded satire with his standard verbose, crass dialogical humor and situational comedy. The results are disastrous, with the film’s satirical elements often feeling over-serious and obvious, and its gross out comedy descending to the levels of actual toilet humor and simply missing the mark. The film suffers from an overreliance on dick and fart jokes, and Mewes is too heavily featured for the first time in the View Askewniverse. I don’t think that my opinions on Dogma’s humor are the results of my maturity since first enjoying it, because I don’t remember ever thinking that the movie was particularly funny, as I did and do about Smith’s other 1990s movies. What has changed is my inability to excuse the movie for not being as funny as it could be, simply because watching Dogma as an adult it isn’t nearly as insightful, profound, or sharply satirical as I thought that it was when I was younger. Smith would later prove himself capable of creating a darkly effective satire in Red State, but Dogma is clearly the work of a younger and less experienced filmmaker.

On the whole, I was disappointed that I didn’t find more to like about Dogma on this rewatch. It’s probably pretty obvious that it was never among my very favorite Smith movies, but I did like it a good bit when I was younger. It still walks a fine line between being critical and reverent of organized religion, and Catholicism, in particular, but as I’ve matured in my own opinions about religion, the film’s tone doesn’t work as well for me as it once did. The film does have its bright spots, but Smith wastes the assembled talent of the cast, and doesn’t have the wherewithal to properly helm a narrative of the scope of Dogma. It isn’t a bad movie, per se, but it’s one that I think might have benefitted from a bit more collaboration and editorial guidance. Though I’ve seen nearly all of Smith’s films, Dogma was really where I stopped being a true fan of the director, and while it used to be in the rotation with relative frequency, I never had the affinity for it that I held for Smith’s first three features. Unfortunately, Dogma’s flaws have only become more apparent with time, and it will likely be a good while before I decide to revisit it, if I do at all.

Chasing Amy

Chasing Amy (1997)

Dir. Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee


From age 14 to age 19, I was obsessed with Kevin Smith and his View Askewniverse, the interconnected film universe that was made up of his first five features. I discovered the king of 1990s raunchy, independent comedy when a friend of mine rented Mallrats on VHS when I was staying the night at his house. I’ll write much more about that film later in this project, but we watched that tape three times over the course of the weekend and I was totally hooked, itching to track down more of Smith’s movies. This would have been 1999 or 2000, and Dogma was fairly new, although I hadn’t seen it in the movie theater. My first experiences with nearly all of his films, at least until me and my friends went to see Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back in the movie theater, was via rental tapes from my local Blockbuster Video. My friends and I would take out both Mallrats and Smith’s debut, Clerks, routinely, memorizing the lines and inserting the catch phrases and odd character mannerisms into our everyday banter. We were totally enamored with the broad comedy, the esoteric nerdy callouts, and the laid-back stoner vibe that Smith’s first two films represented, but Chasing Amy was something different. Eventually, at least for a while, the film would be my favorite Kevin Smith movie and, at least briefly, my favorite movie, period, but it took time for me to get there. It was a movie that I had to grow into, and mature a little bit to really understand, but it was also a movie that I quickly outgrew when I moved into my adult life.

Smith’s third feature, Chasing Amy, marks the first turn towards more dramatic storytelling for a filmmaker who was to this point best known for his crude sense of humor. All of Smith’s first three films, at that point loosely grouped together as a “Jersey trilogy,” could be described as some sort of love story, but Chasing Amy is the only one that I would really describe as a romantic comedy. The film presents the quasi-love triangle formed by best friends Holden (Affleck) and Banky (Lee), creators of the popular “Bluntman & Chronic” comic book series, and Alyssa (Adams), author of the feminist comic “Idiosyncratic Routine,” whom they meet at a convention. Holden immediately falls for Alyssa and he initially believes that his affections are reciprocated, until Alyssa invites him out to a bar, which he slowly realizes is a lesbian bar. Although she isn’t interested in him romantically, Alyssa and Holden strike up a friendship, which eventually becomes a deep emotional bond. Eventually, Holden reveals to Alyssa that his romantic feelings haven’t subsided and that he is more in love with her than before. Initially, Alyssa is resistant and justifiably angry at the assumptions that Holden makes that she can just turn her sexuality on and off, and recontextualize her entire identity to suit his whims, but she eventually accepts that she has real feelings for him, as well, and they begin a romantic relationship. This new relationship pushes an already strained relationship between Holden and Banky to the breaking point, and Banky begins to try to sour Holden’s feelings for Alyssa by dredging into her past. Banky’s digging eventually causes Holden to question Alyssa about her sexual past, and while she tries desperately to reassure him, Holden’s insecurities ultimately torpedo their relationship. At the same time, his resentment of Banky for meddling ends their friendship and all three characters are left at a crossroads, deciding to move on alone.

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When I first saw Chasing Amy, probably sometime freshman year of high school, my response was mixed. I wasn’t prepared for the sharp left turn that this film represented, especially after having seen Clerks and Mallrats a dozen times each. Smith’s characteristically intelligent, rapid-fire dialogue was there, but it wasn’t being used in the service of comedy most of the time. He was exploring emotions that I wasn’t really experiencing yet in my life, and I didn’t find as much to grasp onto with Chasing Amy at first. I was, however, able to glean some enjoyment out of the film even early on before it really sunk its claws into me. I remember being a big fan of Banky, as his character was the most “comedic” element in the film, and because Jason Lee has an innate understanding of Smith’s dialogue that often seems to elude other actors. Smith’s writing has a naturalistic feel, but the dialogue is often peppered with unusual slang and portmanteau, and Lee manages to get inside the words in a way that makes the sometimes strange phrasings feel familiar. In Chasing Amy, he delivers one-liners and acerbic quips with off-the-cuff regularity. Moreover, even though the romantic bits of the film didn’t connect with me on an emotional level yet, I could recognize that the turn towards more dramatic storytelling was producing some of Smith’s best writing. Chasing Amy feels real, in a way that Smith’s earlier and later output never has, and after I had had an opportunity to have some real romantic relationships and experience a few breakups, it felt even more real and relatable to me. By the end of high school, I picked up my own copy of the movie on DVD (probably my first Criterion Collection disc) and it became one of my go-to films, and one of the cultural treatises on romantic love that I clung to as gospel.

A lot can change in a decade and a half. Watching Chasing Amy again in 2017 was a much different experience than the one that I remembered from the last time I watched it. As I mentioned, Jason Lee’s Banky was one of my favorite parts of the film when I was younger, but watching it again now, his casual misogyny and homophobia is cringeworthy. The film as a whole tries to walk a tightrope between opening up the View Askewiniverse to new, diverse characters and points of view, and doubling down on the male-centric humor of Smith’s other films. Even though the film portrays Banky’s views as regressive and small-minded, it still culls much of its humor from his putdowns and insults of Alyssa and her sexuality, in a way trying to have its cake and eat it, too. I don’t know if there are viewership statistics available for this film, but Smith’s core audience was male dominant to this point in his career, and even though Chasing Amy was a breakout hit that connected with the mainstream, I would imagine that Smith was hesitant to fully alienate his teen male following by fully embracing the potential of a more progressive script. I think that Chasing Amy is, on the whole, a good film for representation, but I think some of its condemnations are a bit too light for me to wholly endorse it as a progressive or positive representation of modern sexuality.

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As a straight man, I don’t know that I truly have the depth of insight to comment fully on the sexual politics at play in Chasing Amy, so I will make an attempt to stay in my lane and not step out of my own role as a film critic. The film’s unfortunate homophobia aside, it portrays nuanced, realistic gay characters, but sometimes undercuts their agency. Hooper X (Dwight Ewell), is a codeswitching gay, black comic author who is a friend to Holden and, to a lesser extent, Banky. In public, Hooper adopts an aggressive, militant demeanor to better match the persona put forward in his comic book, “White Hating Coon.” He feels that the book would lose authenticity with his readers if they knew that he were actually an effeminate gay man. This speaks to the sort of passing that many gay men and women feel they have to go through every day in order to succeed in their social or professional lives, and it’s an issue that deserves to be addressed fully, but, unfortunately, Hooper is often reduced to comic relief. Instead of exploring the nuances of a character like Hooper, I felt like that character was often being set-up as a stereotype for a punchline. I can forgive Smith for not exploring the full ramifications of Hooper’s character because, ultimately, he’s a rather small character in the film, but I can still wish that Chasing Amy would go there.

Even in its portrayal of the central romantic relationship between Alyssa and Holden, Alyssa isn’t given equal footing to stand on. While Holden’s sexuality and sexual desire are presented as simple and pure, and are the catalysts for the film, Alyssa’s sexual desire is summed up as a confusing problem that can be solved by just meeting the right man. The film’s approval of Alyssa’s sexual past and the fluidity of her sexuality are progressive, and they’re ideas that certainly weren’t often presented as positively in films of the time, but the ultimate romantic goal in the film is to form a male/female couple. Even though Alyssa very clearly is a lesbian and identifies as such throughout the movie, Chasing Amy largely still plays out as a “straight savior” story, and implies that some gay women may just need to meet that right guy in order to “fix” their sexuality. Again, I try to tread lightly when I’m considering representation of groups that I don’t belong to, but something about the portrayal of Alyssa’s sexuality felt off to me. Of course, maybe I’m asking too much from a filmmaker like Smith, and I appreciate the attempts that he did make in this film simply to include gay characters and people of color. I think Chasing Amy wants to be a more progressive film than Smith necessarily had the vocabulary to make at the time. It comes close, but its insistence on clinging to straight male points of view hampers its ability to fully explore some of its ideas.

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That being said, watching Chasing Amy is still a pretty enjoyable experience. While it probably doesn’t go as far as I would like in exploring its characters sexuality and desires, it presents ideas about romantic love, friendship, and sexuality that are progressive and valuable. Joey Lauren Adams gives a memorable performance as Alyssa, and this film is the reason that I continue to be a Ben Affleck apologist. Both actors portray real, raw emotions as they try to work out the dynamics of a new relationship. The movie is still funny, and it still probably represents the high point of Smith’s screenwriting. Watching a film that was impactful on you in your youth after years of growing up is an interesting experience. Chasing Amy is a film that I was so familiar with, but changes that I’ve made in my life have left me viewing it very differently in my thirties than I did as a very young man. While it had seemed monumental and profound then, now I enjoy it as a realistic, if not totally relatable, romantic comedy. In real life, romantic love can take myriad forms, and that’s one of the important lessons in Chasing Amy. Don’t close your mind off to other possibilities or exist within rigid structures if you want to chase happiness.

Almost Famous

Almost Famous (2000)

Dir. Cameron Crowe

Written by: Cameron Crowe

Starring: Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Frances McDormand


I was introduced to Almost Famous at exactly the perfect time in my life. I was a sophomore in high school when the girl who would go on to be one of my first serious girlfriends showed me this movie for the first time. It must have been 2001 or early 2002 when we watched this on DVD in the basement of my parents’ house. We made out through a lot of the movie so my memories of that first viewing are fond, if incomplete. We were 16 years old and Cameron Crowe’s love letter to 70’s rock and his own adolescence seemed awfully relatable at the time. Based on Crowe’s real life touring with groups like The Allman Brothers and The Who while he was a teenage writer for Rolling Stone, Almost Famous seemed like it had been made specifically for me. I played in several bands with friends throughout middle school and high school, none of which ever got off the ground or lasted much longer than six months. Almost Famous was just the sort of rock and roll fantasy that a teenage music nerd such as myself would fall in love with.

Crowe’s stand in in the film is William Miller (Fugit), a 15 year old aspiring rock journalist living in San Diego with his over protective mother (McDormand). Early in the film, William meets his idol Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman in a brief, but great cameo) who gives him his first opportunity to write for a real rock magazine, covering a Black Sabbath show. When William can’t get into the venue despite his press credentials, he meets Penny Lane (Hudson) a groupie who sneaks him backstage, and introduces him to the band Stillwater. After conning his way into covering up-and-coming band Stillwater for Rolling Stone, William hits the road along with Penny and the band. While on tour, he falls in love, witnesses the interpersonal conflicts of a band that he admires, and experiences the excesses of the 1970s rock scene.


The thing that Almost Famous does so wonderfully is establish a sense of place and time. The film’s soundtrack is crammed with 70s rock classics. The costumes and set dressing are period appropriate. However, the 1970s that Almost Famous evokes is a fun-house mirror reflection where the freaks and the burnouts are kings. The crowded hotel lobbies that William must navigate on tour are full of rock stars and their hangers on, all ready to follow their favorite group to the next tour stop, hoping to delay the onset of reality for just a few more shows. As a journalist, William’s role is to document the bacchanal but, like the audience, he can’t help but find himself wrapped up in it. Like the film itself, the world of the tour is immersive, and many of the film’s characters are happy never to leave it, following one band, then another, never wanting to return home.

The realism of Almost Famous is also bolstered by its deep and talented cast. Crowe has said that nearly everyone in the film is based on a real person that he knew in the 70s rock scene, and it shows. Even characters with just a few scenes are memorable, and fully fleshed out. I already mentioned the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cameo as Lester Bangs, but in just about ten minutes of screen time, Hoffman turns in one of his best performances as the “uncool” rock critic who William so admires. Hoffman’s performance shows the chain smoking, mustachioed Bangs in turns manic and enthusiastic about rock and roll, and cynical about it, forecasting its death. Hoffman elevates what could have been a bit part into one of the more memorable elements of the film thanks to his nuanced, subtle performance. Performances like this abound in Almost Famous. Frances McDormand stands out as Elaine Miller, William’s mother, even though most of her scenes are phone conversations. Often without anyone else on screen to play off of, the concern and anxiety that her character is feeling are palpable. Crowe inserts a few shots of McDormand sitting alone after her phone conversations with William that are simply heartbreaking. The mother character could have been shrewish, or used mostly for comic relief, as is sometimes the case in the film, but the emotion that McDormand puts into her performance made me take notice of her character in particular on this rewatch.


The film’s main cast is also deserving of commendation, particularly Billy Crudup and Jason Lee as Russell Hammond and Jeff Bebe, respectively. They play the guitarist and lead singer of Sweetwater, whose creativity and frequent personal clashes fuel the band. Crudup plays Hammond as equal parts con man, mystic, and rock god. He takes William under his wing during the tour, but steadfastly refuses to give him an interview for his story. As the film goes on, Russell and William develop a friendly rivalry over their mutual admiration of Penny Lane. Lee’s Jeff Bebe describes himself to Hammond as, “the you they get when they can’t get you,” underlining the tensions between the two as Jeff chafes at his second banana role to Russell. Both actors turn up their lothario charm for their roles, but they play the rockers in different ways. As mentioned, Crudup plays Russell as some sort of mystic, tapped in to a spiritual connection with the music that he makes so much that he can’t relate to average people. He can go from charming warmth to drug-fueled rage at a coin flip, and Crudup is convincing in both modes. Lee, on the other hand, plays Bebe as an affable, if bristly, uncle to William. He keeps the journalist at arm’s length, referring to him as “the enemy,” but is ultimately far more forthcoming than the seemingly more affectionate Hammond. As the group’s lead singer, Bebe’s personality is more outwardly engaging, and Lee’s upbeat performance style is perfect for that.

It’s unfortunate, but understandable, that the teen actors cast in the film’s leads don’t quite live up to the high bar set by their older counterparts. Patrick Fugit is passable as William, though there doesn’t seem to be a lot of acting for him to do. On the surface, his character learns and grows quite a bit from the beginning of the film to the end, but his performance rarely reflects this. Fugit does a fine job of embodying William’s starry-eyed demeanor at getting to spend time among his idols, but when the film asks him to ramp up the emotion and get angry, he falls short. His line delivery is stilted and he doesn’t have the physical presence in the role to carry the emotional weight that the script sometimes asks of him. This may be a result of both the character and the actor being a teen interacting with adults, so they are both ultimately unable to convey a full adult range of emotion. It’s not that Fugit is bad in the film, he just often seems overmatched when paired with the more charismatic Lee and Crudup.


Kate Hudson fares much better as Penny Lane, the famed groupie and founder of the “Band Aides.” While William is taking in this world for the first time, Penny is a season veteran, and Hudson, who grew up in a famous family, lends the character a world-weariness that feels earned. Hudson plays Penny Lane with supreme confidence throughout the first half of the film. She adopts a matronly position among the other Band Aides and William, and acts a sort of tour guide for the audience. Her youth belies her experience, and she exudes authority. However, by the end of the tour, Penny Lane and her Band Aides are left behind by the band, and the cracks in Penny’s confident façade start to show. Hudson’s last few scenes in the film are impressive, as she lets just a bit of Penny’s sad brokenness shine through those cracks. The scene where William finally tells Penny that she isn’t going on the rest of the tour with Stillwater because Russell sold her, along with the rest of the Band Aides, to Humble Pie for $50 and a case of beer is a perfect example of Hudson’s performance range in the film. She turns her head away from the camera, obviously hurt, and then turns it back to look at William, wiping away a single tear and quietly asks, “What kind of beer?” as a smile starts to bloom on her lips. Penny’s heart is breaking and that single tear contains a lifetime of sadness, but it’s all the vulnerability she can allow herself. Penny Lane could have been a concept, or a cliché, rather than a fully realized character. In fact, most of the men who claim to be in love with Penny throughout the film only know her as a cliché and are in love with the concept of Penny. It’s in these small scenes shared with William that Hudson’s performance lends Penny a well of emotional depth.

As is probably abundantly clear by now, I really enjoy Almost Famous. I went through a big Cameron Crowe phase during high school, and Almost Famous was among my favorites of his at the time. As I mentioned, it spoke to the teenage music nerd in me. Despite all of his obvious flaws, I wanted to be Russell Hammond, although I would have settled for being William Miller. Penny’s bohemianism and easy charm reminded me of my girlfriend at the time. She was an actress, and she was prone to the same sort of poetic daydreaming that Penny was. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had asked me to go to Morocco with her, as Penny does with William. Almost Famous caters to that teenage impulsiveness, the feeling that if you can join the circus or a rock and roll band, you might never have to grow up. Of course, somewhere along the way I did grow up. I’m not sure that I have watched this, or any other Cameron Crowe film, since turning 25.


About three months ago, however, I purchased the extended cut of Almost Famous on Bluray. It was on sale an Amazon, and I was curious to see if the movie would hold up to my fond memories of it from adolescence. I was honestly surprised by how well it did, in fact, hold up. I may enjoy Almost Famous more now than I did then. Watching the film as an adult, I was less caught up in the romance and the spectacle of it all. I keyed in on the small performances, like Frances McDormand’s or Jimmy Fallon’s fantastic cameo as the band’s potential new manager. I appreciated the depth that underlies all of the showier aspects of the film. When I was young, I wanted to be Russell Hammond, but now I know that I was far more destined to be Lester Bangs. My role is to be the critic, feeding off of the art of the true creatives, and hoping that maybe my own prose will help someone to find their way to a new favorite film or rediscover an old one. Working on this project has made me much more comfortable in that role, one that I had a lot of trouble accepting and growing into as a younger writer. Brushing off old favorites like this one is a lot like trying on a favorite band T-shirt from your youth. It might not fit exactly the same way, because you’ve changed, but there’s still something familiar and comfortable about it because of all the memories you’ve made wearing it. I’m really beginning to enjoy digging through that old dresser.