Director: George Lucas
Starring: Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith
It’s the night before Steve (Howard) and Curt (Dreyfuss) are leaving for college. They are determined to have one last night hanging out with friends John (Le Mat) and Terry the Toad (Smith), getting into teenage mischief. Curt is plagued by doubts about whether he should take the big leap and leave the nest of their small town, and Steve is finding it difficult to leave his long-term girlfriend Laurie (Williams).
This is the sort of movie that my father absolutely loves. Lucas lovingly paints a portrait of a certain time and place in American history. It’s a good portrait, but almost too good. Why? Because it is forever linked to its particular time. Will it age well? I’m going with “no” because already, the movie is showing its wrinkles. While certain facets about the film, most notably the pain and trauma of leaving home, friends, and family for the first time to go off to college, are still fresh and still affecting, many others – cruising the strip, spending Friday night at the sock hop, wanting to join a petty gang called “The Pharaohs” – haven’t been a part of American culture for, well, decades.
I can appreciate American Graffiti as capturing “that moment in time.” But goddamn, if most of the movie isn’t tiresome and dull. There are four distinct plot lines, each following one of the four friends around town. Of the plot lines, most enjoyable for me is easily that of John driving around town with Carol (Mackenzie Phillips), a prepubescent and precious girl, when he would have much rather picked up a babe or three. The verbal sparring between the two is very amusing, and John’s plot line goes flatter than flat when he drops Carol off at the end of the evening. I really don’t care that he then drag races Harrison Ford. I don’t care that he’s the best drag racer in town. Who drag races anymore, anyway?
Steve’s plot line is the most poignant. He’s wrestling with whether or not to break up with Laurie as he heads to college and she stays behind. I went through that pain, going off to college and leaving my high school boyfriend. It’s very tough, splitting up with that first, intense love, and Steve and Laurie run the gamut of emotions. While they both get a little whiny, and I find the conclusion of their storyline to be a downer, there is some good emotional stuff there.
The other two plot lines – that of Terry the Toad picking up a hot chick and getting into shenanigans, and Curt wandering around town and getting into shenanigans – are, frankly, dull. Watching Terry the Toad constantly lose at life isn’t exactly entertaining. Watching Curt doubt his decision to go to college makes me want to reach into the film screen, slap him across the face, and pull a Moonstruck. Quit whining, Curt. And quit mucking around with the Pharaohs. Although I can appreciate that the film is meant to be a mosaic of one night in the life of these four friends, I would have much preferred to focus on the entertaining and emotional plot lines. I’m inclined to actually fast forward through certain parts of the film.
Is American Graffiti a classic? I’m not the one to answer that. Ask my father. Seriously. This is what he lived through – he *was* one of these guys. He loves this movie, because it captures his youth. Is that important? I think so. It’s a special film that can make a generation point at it and say, “YES! That was me!” However, American Graffiti doesn’t have that emotional impact on me. It’s not *my* generation. I do not even come close to relating to cruising on the strip. I find it dull.
It’s one of those films that’s easy for me to appreciate, but, at the same time, I find it not very entertaining and I have a real difficulty loving it.
Arbitrary rating: 6/10