Top 100 Movie Review: No. 084 – American Graffiti (1973)

Ranked 84 on the IMDB Top 100 Movies.
Watched May 2018

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss (Curt), Ron Howard (Steve), Paul Le Mat (John), Charles Martin Smith (Terry), Cindy Williams (Laurie), Candy Clark (Debbie), Mackenzie Phillips (Carol), Wolfman Jack (Disc Jockey), Bo Hopkins (Joe), Manuel Padilla Jr.(Carlos), Beau Gentry (Ants), Harrison Ford (Bob Falfa)
Director: George Lucas

My rating: 6.5 / 10
Danelle’s rating: ? / 10

Synopsis
Set in the early 1960s in Modesto with four friends, recent high school graduates, Curt (Richard Dreyfuss), Steve (Ronny Howard), Terry (Charles Martin Smith) and John (Paul Le Mat) cruise the streets of small-town California on the last night before their adult lives must begin. A disc jockey (Wolfman Jack) plays classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes as they find the night far from easy or carefree as they want with and Steve’s high-school girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams) who he is leaving to go to College, an energetic rebellious, girl Debbie (Candy Clark), a bratty adolescent Carol (Mackenzie Phillips), a mysterious girl in a Thunderbird and a drag race between John and Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) provide all the excitement they can handle on this eventful last day of summer.

What’s to Like
The music, classic cars, the expression John gives when having to look after young teen Carol as he realises his night of fun is likely ruined.

What’s not to Like
How hard it is to emphasis with the major characters, they seem totally unplanned for life and don’t fully enjoy the incredible freedoms they have as middle class white car owning high schoolers.

Thoughts
This coming of age story is based on George Lucas’ own teenage years as he moved from being high schooler to an adult having having to made big decisions about his future. That is the core of this movie as the four friends face far reaching decisions in the next 24 hours whether they realise it or not. It‘s a time of innocence as the assassination of President Kennedy that changed USA was still in the future as was the full toll of Vietnam War on American youth.

The biggest changes are impacting Curt and Steve who are scheduled to travel the next morning to the North-Eastern United States to start college, for Steve this means leaving behind his girlfriend Laurie. For most of the movie they are either drifting apart or fighting but a car accident leads to Steve deciding not to leave Modesto.

You see the tough guy John who wears his cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his T-shirt who is worried about being seen with young teen Carol slowly come to understand each other and maybe even respect their different circumstances. People are more than just one dimension.

I personally didn’t connect with this movie as I never really felt that total innocence at the end of my High School days, the Gulf War took that away and the knowledge of the conflicts from the mid-60s and onwards with it’s wars and terror and the late 80s recession meant while I was safe in Australia I didn’t face the binary choices these characters face. Still it’s a possible small insight into what life was like for white teenage males in late 50s and early 60s might have been like cruising in your car down main street late on a Saturday night, a time that will never return.

We learn at the end of the movie the futures of the four main characters and it’s not full of adventures and fun that their innocent encounters might predict; John is killed by a drunk driver in December 1964, Terry is reported missing in action in December 1965, Steve is an insurance agent in Modesto, California, and Curt is a writer living in Canada.

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Candy Clark)
  • Best Director (George Lucas)
  • Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Factual Material or Material Not Previously Published or Produced (George Lucas, Gloria Katz, Willard Huyck)
  • Best Film Editing (Verna Fields, Marcia Lucas)

About Nathan

An Australian World traveler who has been fortunate enough to experience 56 countries so far. https://nathanburgessinsights.com/travel/
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