There have been a lot of odes to the '70s on film lately, but director Cameron Crowe ("Say Anything," "Jerry McGuire") certainly has a unique tale to tell. As a 15-year-old rock journalist for music magazines like Creem and Rolling Stone, Crowe spent his formative years in the mid-'70s on tour with stadium rock bands such as the Eagles and Led Zeppelin, immersed in the world of backstage bacchanalia and hotel-room hedonism.

As a document of such a decadent era, Crowe's semi-autobiographical film "Almost Famous" may seem strangely sweet, a world where decadence knows no casualties, where groupies act as muses, and where even rock-star-size egos can come down to earth. This may seem like rose-colored nostalgia on the surface, but scratch a little deeper and you'll be surprised what you find. "Almost Famous" is such a brilliant send-up of the inanities of rock 'n' roll touring (the best this side of "Spinal Tap"), that you can almost miss the heartbreak and bittersweet doubt at the film's core.

Crowe's tale starts with the assumption that in 1973, for a 15-year-old stuck in the corduroy 'burbs and suffering through high school, a needle in a vinyl groove still had the power to change one's life. Like a pilgrim drawn to Mecca, Crowe's baby-faced protagonist, William Miller (Patrick Fugit), goes off in search of the source, and is both delighted and dispirited by what he finds.