ELAINE: I am a college professor. Why can't I teach my own kids?
Elaine Miller is an intellectual and a professor. She wants for her kids to be smart and moral, and she wants them to reach their full potential. She wants only the best for them. Somehow, though, things don't quite work out as she planned. Perhaps she has been trying too hard to make her kids do what she thinks they should do, rather than let them figure out for themselves what they want.
ANITA: I hate you! Even William hates you! WILLIAM: I don't hate her. ANITA: Yes you do! You don't even know the truth!
William doesn't want to get in the middle of the conflict between his mother and sister. That's no easy situation to be in as a young kid. Of course, there's not a lot of logic going on here: as with so many family spats, emotions run high—but often over pretty much nothing.
STILLWATER: Get on my back for a piggyback ride!
Stillwater is a family, and they bring William into the fold. But like most families, Stillwater is pretty darn dysfunctional.
William's mother uses the family whistle to find him after the concert.
Every family has their little quirks, and having their very own "family whistle" is just one of the Millers' many eccentricities. But quirky as it may be, this whistle demonstrates Elaine's attention to the safety and well-being of her children.
WILLIAM: My dad died of a heart attack, and my sister believes that my mom is so intense that she had to escape our family […] I mean, they don't even speak to each other anymore […]. It's good to talk about it.
William doesn't have many friends, so he doesn't get to share his story often. It's significant for him to finally have the space to vent his frustrations.
ELAINE: Could you give him a message for me… I know what's going on.
Elaine does not approve of the rock-and-roll lifestyle in the slightest. She associates rock and roll with commercialism, corrupted values, and—worst of all—drugs. Overbearing? Maybe. Wrong? We'll let you be the judge.
Everyone on the bus sings "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John.
"Like it or not," Cameron Crowe writes in the original script, "this is his family" (source). This note refers of course to Russell, who had walked out on the band the night before.
WILLIAM: I have to go home.
PENNY LANE: You are home.
William knows he has to leave the tour and return home, but Penny knows better. In many ways, this is the family William never had. Which family is more real? Do these families complement each other?
ELAINE: I didn't ask for this role, but I'll play it. Now go do your best. Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid. Goethe said that. It's not too late for you to become a person of substance, Russell.
Russell certainly gets more than he bargains for when he hijacks William's phone conversation with Elaine. In that moment, Elaine becomes a parent to Russell, urging him, just as she urges William, to be the best he can be, and to do the right thing.
RUSSELL: Your mom kinda freaked me out.
WILLIAM: She means well.
At the end of the day, Elaine only wants the best for the people around her. Yes, she can be opinionated, and yes, she can be a handful. But she will fight for her kids at all costs.
ELAINE: I forgive you.
ANITA: I didn't apologize.
When Elaine and Anita finally reunite, hugging and sharing a playful laugh at Anita's comment, literal years' worth of tension is released.