Lessons learned from ‘Almost Famous’ (William Miller, in particular)

When Almost Famous was released on this day fifteen years ago, I was eight years old, so it’s pretty safe to say I had no idea it existed. But when I discovered the movie at age fifteen (the same age as Patrick Fugit’s character, William Miller), it profoundly affected me. 

It makes perfect sense that I related to William Miller. He was that shy, smart, lonely kid who loved music. I was that shy, smart (I’d like to think I was smart), lonely kid who loved movies. From the opening scene where he tells his mom why he likes Atticus Finch (which, who doesn’t? Especially when Atticus is played by the great Gregory Peck?), I felt a deep connection. That connection continued throughout the movie, and throughout my teenage years. Here’s what William Miller didn’t even know he taught me.

1. Loving your family as a teenager is completely normal!

I remember one thing that always weirded me out when I was younger was how disconnected other friends’ families were. There seems to be some sort of stigma associated with being a teenager and actually liking your parents (albeit, while understanding that they’re completely nuts). I didn’t really go through much of a rebellious phase. My parents didn’t really set crazy rules, and I think, because of that, I never went out of my way to do crazy things. Let’s be honest: I’m a goodie two shoes and proud of it and so is William Miller.

2. It’s OK to not be quote-unquote cool

William’s sister, played by the lovely (VERY YOUNG) Zooey Deschanel, tells William when she leaves home, “One day, you’ll be cool.” After he goes on his rock tour adventure, he tells Lester Bangs (played by the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman), “…Even when I thought I was [cool], I knew I wasn’t.” I beg to differ: I think William is damn impressive. He’s a 15-year-old rock journalist with heart and idealism! If that’s uncool, then who wants to be cool?

3. The “real world” always catches up with you

It’s easy to get swept up into the romance of being on the road. William is invited into the band’s circle and finally feels like he belongs, but back home he has a real life waiting for him; tests to take, a graduation to attend. He never forgets that and he teaches Penny Lane and Russell that the road is still the “real world,” a harsh but necessary truth. We’re never on vacation from our actions. When Penny Lane almost dies, Russell is nowhere to be seen (his girlfriend shows up) and William saves the day and even kisses the girl of his dreams (“boldly going where many men have gone before.”)

4. Being a good friend means being honest 

Lester Bangs tells William, “You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.” William spends a good amount of time on the road with Stillwater and is pretty much asked straight out to not tell the whole truth. Russell tells him, “Just makes us look cool.” Right before William goes home, Russell tells him to write what he wants. William does. However, when Rolling Stone fact-checks the article, Russell says it’s completely untrue. Sapphire tells Russell later that “everyone knows what you did to him [William].” Russell apologizes to William and tells Rolling Stone every word he wrote was true. It’s an important lesson. Being honest will always earn you more respect from a true friend.

5. Maybe we don’t see ourselves as we truly are

There’s something special about the way we view the world at 15. William Miller sees everyone in an idealized way. Maybe they all have problems and are not the perfect, shining, rock gods he thinks they are, but we could all use a reminder to not be jaded and to see the best in the people around us. In the end, the piece he writes tells the truth and displays his rock ’n roll friends as actual people. But, he’s not a cynical person and what he writes still displays his idealistic enthusiasm, something we could all use a little more of.

 (Images via Columbia Pictures)