Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #70

The actor:Philip Seymour Hoffman
The character:Lester Bangs
The film:Almost Famous
The quote:“I’m always home. I’m uncool.”

I came to Elizabethtown well before I came to the stuff that made Cameron Crowe famous, and that left a mark on me. Crowe was never the popular screenwriter-director who wrote the memorable dialogue in popular movies with big stars saying it. Cameron Crowe was the guy who made Elizabethtown, which just did less than nothing for me. With that out of the way, what I like so much about Lester’s insistence that he is “uncool” is that it is fundamentally different than “not cool.” It’s a writerly distinction to make.

I think it’s basically indisputable that Lester Bangs is cool. William Miller is “not cool,” as Lester tells him in the same phone call, in the line before this one. Patrick Fugit is so mechanically gormless in Almost Famous, playing a kid whose two personality traits are 1) being smarter than other high schoolers and 2) liking music. He is definitely not cool. “Lou Reed wants to be Bowie but he should just be himself,” wow, that’s really insightful, while we’re here, got any neat insights about Matthew Vaughn ripping off Guy Ritchie?

But Lester has graduated beyond that. He is “uncool.” It is a state of mind, a loser nirvana for people who have been left out in the cold. He does not aspire to coolness. He is not like William, a bright-eyed kiddo who meets his first pretty girl who wasn’t his sister, who sees what it’s like when people drink and do drugs, who watches thousands of people adore four dudes and gets starstruck over again. Lester, in other words, is not naive. “Uncool” is armor, maybe even slightly cynical armor. It centers him, focuses him on what he actually wants to care about. Presentation need not apply for notice here. It’s about essence, about personality, about subjectivity. It’s what makes him a real critic and it’s the reason why he’s home alone all the time with his records, rather than hanging out with people who…like him.

I come back to that line from Ratatouille a bunch about good criticism defending the new. But in terms of real thoughts about good criticism in movies, this one stands out as well. A critic has only a few things that make him or her valuable: style, insight, perspective. It’s lonely to be uncool, but in that solitude Lester can defend that perspective with a rigid bad humor and keep himself from being took like this kid who calls him up now and then to report from the road.

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