There are two sides to the coin every time we choose to pluck a film from the past and observe it—we can focus on what’s gotten better with age and what’s rusted. Often, and it seems to increasingly be the case lately, inflection points in the conversation are focusing on the latter, especially when viewed through 2019’s cultural lens. For better and for worse, everything is examined with a raised eyebrow. That includes Cameron Crowe’s turn-of-the-century classic “Almost Famous.”
Despite its enduring popularity, the film’s presentation of Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane – a figure inseparable from thinking about the movie, thanks to its iconic poster – has received its fair share of criticism in the nearly-two decades since, namely for the character never truly transcending a dream girl trope to achieve her own personality.
But while speaking to the Los Angeles Times ahead of the premiere of an “Almost Famous” stage adaptation, Crowe emphasized that was never his intention.
“She was never a manic pixie dream girl to me,” Crowe told the newspaper. “She’s based on a real person who is definitely not a manic pixie dream girl, in the best way. I always thought she was just a soulful, selfless, loving person who was super into community and kept herself a little bit hidden. She lit up a room by knowing everything about everybody.”
“Almost Famous” has always been cited as a semi-autobiographical work – like the main teen character in the movie, Crowe wrote for Rolling Stone before going into movies – so the argument could be made that he’s the foremost authority of translating his experiences and the people he met to the screen. But there’s always the other side of the coin—namely, how art is free to be consumed and perceived by audiences once it’s out in the world, and years down the line.
When it comes to the impending stage production – one that will be a full-fledged musical – audiences can expect Penny to be a more fully-realized character. According to the LA Times, a new duet created for the show explains how she and rocker Russell Hammond first met, and conversations between them “held entirely behind slammed hotel doors onscreen, take center stage.”
Crowe is heavily involved in the stage adaptation, according to the Times, which noted how the character set to play Penny in it “spoke with Crowe about the real-life Penny, and learned more about those next-generation groupies who supported rock musicians on the road.” For all intents and purposes, this is a new work of art—and it will be up to 2019 audiences to decide for themselves if time has been more fulfilling to the character of Penny in their eyes.