Monday, December 19, 2022

Recasting 2000 (supporting): "Almost Famous"

A handful of articles came out in 2020 suggesting that Meryl Streep was originally considered for the role of Elaine Williams in director Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical film from 2000, Almost Famous. We all know of course that the great Frances McDormand was ultimately cast. This film is one of those critical darlings that somehow managed to elude my viewing until I learned about Meryl's previous consideration for a part. I loved it, and was immediately sold at including this pic in my supporting recasting project. 

After his success from 1996's Jerry Maguire, Crowe was apparently given a green light from a studio to film a movie based on his own experience of working as a fifteen year-old writer for Rolling Stone magazine. In early 70s San Diego, William Miller (Patrick Fugit) first scores an assignment to write a review for a Black Sabbath concert, where he befriends a groupie (Kate Hudson) of the band's opener, the fictional Stillwater. The editor of Rolling Stone then hires William to write a story about Stillwater, and William ends up hitting the road with the band on their tour. William's widowed mother, Elaine (McDormand), couldn't have chosen a worse scenario for her son had she tried. She is fiercely against rock music and drug use, and is determined that her son pursue a law degree when he's of age. But her eighteen year-old daughter (Zooey Deschael) has already run off with a boyfriend, and Elaine is sort of stuck between her instinct to control and protect her son and to not stifle him into leaving for good too. 

William tries in vain to secure an interview with Stillwater's lead guitarist, Russell Hammond (the dreamy Billy Crudup in a role originally envisioned for Brad Pitt). When William is on the road longer than he expected and has been less than diligent in keeping in touch with his mom, Elaine has a few choice words for Russell. 

It's easy to guess from this clip alone that the character of Elaine is a teacher. She's capable in a matter of moments to make an adult man sort of stand to attention, check his cocky tendencies, and stammer a humble, "Yes, ma'am." Elaine is the opposite of naive. And she seems to me to actually be a progressive thinker. There's a bit of a self-righteous bent in her sort of dogged insistence of how right she is, and it's an interesting paradox she seems to struggle with in not flat out forbidding William to pursue his passion for writing and rock music. She badly wants him to follow the straight and narrow, yet can probably see the benefit of permitting him to make some of his own choices and perhaps even big mistakes. She wants to control him so badly, but she's smart enough to recognize that that's a recipe for pushing him away. It's a good feeling as a viewer to see at the end (spoiler) that she's managed to thread the needle with her kids' lives, as they're shown together and seemingly happy.  

I was surprised to learn that Almost Famous was kind of a box-office bomb, considering it's big budget of $60 million (it only recouped $47 million of that). But the critics went hog wild for it. It holds an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and a very impressive 90 score on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim." Crowe won the Academy Award for his original screenplay. Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand were both nominated in Supporting Actress for the big four: Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA and Academy Award. McDormand scored a couple of critics' groups awards as well. 

Something I expect that will bring me back to this film regularly is its engaging soundtrack, which happened to win a Grammy. There's a lot of nostalgia conjured by hearing tracks from Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Simon & Garfunkel, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, to name a few. It's the music of my parents' early adult years. And while they were far from rock devotees or hippies, this music made its way to my ears in our house growing up, and it will probably forever continue to remind me of Mom and Dad.  


  1. Jinx Jeff! I knew we'd go for the same choice this year! This is my friend's favourite movie and I was impressed by it as well. Although Frances doesn't get much time on screen it's one of those roles where, in the hands of a great talent, really stands out when you recall the movie. I also totally agree about Billy Crudup, he was at his peak of gorgeous here!

    Anyway, my backup was a suggestion of the role played by Ellen Burstyn in the dark and disturbing "Requiem For A Dream". I could only watch this once as I found it so bleak, as fitting the subject matter of addiction and loneliness. However, this is arguably a lead role but I checked the website which has measured the length of every Oscar-nominated performance and Sara Goldfarb was in 1/3 of the movie. I know whether a performance is lead Vs supporting isn't that simple so in the end I concluded it's just too meaty and powerful to not be the lead, so not in the spirit of the recasting project. She should have got the Oscar.

    Therefore my actual choice for 2000 will be another played by Frances McDormand, the role of Dean Sara Gaskell in the dramedy "Wonder Boys". The character is having a secret love affair with Michael Douglas, one of the Professors at her University, the plot is unpredictable and the cast is charming. I really liked this book when I was going through a Michael Chabon phase as a teenager and the movie is a little gem, not all his work translates to screen. Although it didn't find much of an audience when released I think it still holds up and would be another opportunity to work opposite Michael Douglas

    1. Great minds think alike! Do you forget that I chose Requiem for a Dream for my 2000 lead role!
      I totally consider it lead. And ugh, never seen Wonder Boys. It's so interesting how personal the movie choices I or anyone else would make when imagining their favorite performers in different roles. Reading a little background on Wonder Boys I can totally see myself really enjoying it, and had I seen it at the time of its release, it very well could've been a sentimental film for me and very much in the running for this project.

  2. Oh I did remember it was on your radar! I only mentioned Requiem here as I read some comments ages ago about "Lead" nominees who would have won if they'd gone "Supporting". One was Ellen and another was Meryl for The Devil Wears Prada!

    1. Ah yes. That's actually probably true. Some probably would've put up a fuss about Burstyn, but Meryl's was likely more a supporting role, at least in regard to screen time.