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The plot follows the experiences of Author Avatar William Miller, an aspiring teenage rock journalist who gets sucked headfirst into the world of rock when he goes on tour with a band named "Stillwater". In addition to the band itself, he becomes acquainted with its groupies and gets a good look at what happens underneath the glamorous exterior that most people are presented with.
This film contains examples of the following tropes:
- Adorkable: William
- Age Cut
- Almighty Mom
- Author Avatar: William Miller = Cameron Crowe
- Author Appeal: Crowe has long believed in The Power of Rock, and that's summed up near the end, when Sapphire is slamming the other groupies (as opposed to other Band-Aids like her):
Sapphire: They don't even know what it is to be a fan. Y'know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.
- California Doubling: The film was shot in and around Ocean Beach, San Diego, CA, Crowe's hometown. Much of the film is set there, but the parts that aren't were also filmed there. The San Diego Sports Arena appears both as itself and as a stand-in for several other concert venues throughout the film.
- Christmas in July: One of the things William's mother does.
- Creator Cameo: That's Cameron Crowe's hand writing names on a notepad in the opening credits.
- Crowd Song: "Hold me closer, tiny dancer..."
- Dead Air: During a radio interview scene where the overnight DJ, higher than a very high thing, falls asleep and the band being interviewed realizes the air is dead. Not for long, though.
- Defictionalization: One of the Director's Cut DVD extras was a "Stillwater" CD.
- Deathbed Confession: Variant happens during the thunderstorm, as everyone inside the plane thinks they'll die and start this.
- Ensemble Darkhorse: The in-universe example of Russell Hammond, who upstages the band leader without even trying.
- Executive Meddling: A benevolent example. Crowe wanted to include a scene where William plays "Stairway to Heaven" for his mom. The whole song.
- Crowe's original title was, and this is true, Untitled.
- Fan Boy/Fan Girl: Numerous, numerous in-movie examples.
- Fish Out of Water: At first, William.
- Band-Aid Brigade "IT'S BOWIE!"
- Homage: In addition to many events taken directly from real life (e.g. the scene where the band's plane almost crashes happened while director Crowe was touring with The Who), the movies is full of homages to rock bands and albums. The scene where one of the Stillwater members is shocked by his microphone is a possible shout out to Keith Relf of the Yardbirds, who died after being electrocuted by improperly grounded music equipment. Some scenes are also framed to look like or include references to album covers, such as a shot of the crowd at the first Stillwater concert that's made to look like the cover to Neil Young's "Time Fades Away."
- Insistent Terminology: The groupies are not groupies. They are, in fact, "band-aids."
- Intoxication Ensues: "I AM A GOLDEN GOD!"
- It Will Never Catch On:
"If you think Mick Jagger will still be out there trying to be a rock star at age fifty, then you are sadly, sadly mistaken."
- Lennon Specs: Penny Lane wears these (and one of the advertising posters was a closeup of Kate Hudson wearing them).
- Lost Him in a Card Game: One of the bands bets their groupies.
- * sigh* It's Band-aid
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Penny Lane is a deconstruction of this -- she uses her quirky, upbeat attitude to hide her inner loneliness and hurt, something that becomes painfully apparent at the end of the movie.
- My Beloved Smother: Elaine, William's mother, though subverted to some degree: She's portrayed sympathetically.
- Cameron Crowe's mother was on the set for most of the scenes "she" was in, and participated in the DVD Commentary.
- Nature Abhors a Virgin / Three-Way Sex: "Let's deflower the kid."
- Not on the List
- Nothing but Hits: Anita leaves William her record collection, which apparently consists entirely of well-known, critically-acclaimed rock albums that have stood the test of time and remain instantly recognizable to contemporary audiences.
- Semi-averted with the actual soundtrack to the movie, with throws in such lesser-known gems as Cat Stevens' "The Wind" and The Beach Boys' "Feel Flows" alongside the expected classics.
- The Obi-Wan: Lester Bangs.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Penny Lane.
- "Lady Goodman?!?!?"
- The Quiet One: Stillwater's drummer. His only line happens to be utterly hilarious.
- Real Person Cameo: Cameron Crowe's mother is handing out diplomas at the graduation ceremony that William Miller misses.
- William sees Jann Wenner in the back seat of a cab while he's chasing after Penny.
- Running Gag: "I talked to your Mom, she freaked me out."
- "DON'T TAKE DRUGS!"
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Lester Bangs teaches William how to use this tactic to sucker editors.
- Seventies Hair: Almost everyone.
- Sex as Rite-Of-Passage: Not that William actively attempts to lose his virginity - that's taken care of for him.
- Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll
- Sexy Packaging: You see it on video first? Three guesses why you rented that film...
- Shout-Out: Numerous throughout the movie.
- Many real rock-and-roll personalities are actual characters in the movie, or implied to be just off-screen. Lester Bangs drops these left and right. Penny Lane is a nod The Beatles and is also is loosely based on a real person. At one point William is trying to interview Black Sabbath. On a couple of different occasions, he encounters groupies chasing after David Bowie, Robert Plant, or Jimmy Page.
Russell: Hey, why didn't you come back to the party last night? Bob Dylan showed up. He was sitting at our table for what had to be an hour or something, right, Dick?
Russell: Just rapping. Bob Dylan at our fucking table.
- "Stillwater" is possibly a play on Creedence Clearwater Revival, and maybe Crosby Stills & Nash.
- Not to mention Will very briefly catching sight of a man and a woman, singing and playing the guitar together in a hotel room.
- Word of God on the dvd commentary identifies those two as Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Stevie Wonder's dreamily romantic "My Cherie Amour" plays as William watches Penny get her stomach pumped following her overdose on pills.
- Star-Making Role: Kate Hudson.
- Technology Marches On: Played for a laugh. "A Mo-Jo, it's a very high-tech machine that transmits pages over the telephone! It only takes eighteen minutes a page!"
- Throw It In: "Do you want to go to Morocco?" "Yes. [beat] Ask me again." This was not scripted, but in fact was Patrick Fugit asking Kate Hudson to do another take of the exchange.
- Title Drop: Sign on the front of the Stillwater tour bus.
- Watch Out for That Tree: Sapphire, while running alongside Stillwater's tour bus to give William a message, runs straight into a wall.