A wonderfully evocative cinematic tapestry woven from the early life experiences of writer-director Cameron Crowe, this quasi-autobiographical paean to the music that shaped and defined a generation captures the essence and soul of the '70s. Circa 1973, nerdy 15-year-old William Miller (Crowe stand-in Patrick Fugit), a gifted aspiring music journalist, has snagged a unbelievably plum assignment: A lengthy piece for the fledgling Rolling Stone on the talented but not-yet-famous Stillwater, fronted by Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) and the charismatic Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), whom William met while they were opening for Black Sabbath. In order to get the interviews and background material he needs, William — with the nail-biting consent of his overly protective mother (Frances McDormand), who worries about the sex and drugs she knows go hand-in-hand with rock 'n' roll — joins the band and their barely legal "band aids" (groupies to the rest of us) on their ill-conceived, "Almost Famous" bus tour of various U.S. cities. Despite the warnings of rock critic Lester Bangs (the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman) that professionalism and befriending the band don't mix, William does — what fan wouldn't? — and compounds his transgression by falling in love with Russell's personal band aid, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). Sharply observed, bittersweet and suffused with the kind of detail that only someone who lived through the era could summon up, Crowe's script is funny, heartfelt and very cool. His ensemble cast — especially Fugit, Crudup, Hoffman, McDormand and the sensational Kate Hudson — reward him with performances as vivid and intense as a blacklight poster.