34 of 1001 Movies: American Graffiti (1973)

Where was I in 1962? Well neither of my parents were even born by this time, so I was far from existence just yet. American Graffiti will make you wish you were alive in 1962. I don’t think there was any time quite like what is being depicted in this movie. George Lucas shows a fun, crazy, wild, and scary time to be a teen on the verge of huge changes. With every character being colorful, and fascinating, a classic with American Graffiti is made.

Two high school graduates, Curt and Steve (Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard), find themselves giving one last cruise of their town before they are set to leave the next day. They are joined by girlfriends, and buddies to make this night a memorable one. You have Terry (Charles Martin Smith) who finds some confidence with Debbie (Candy Clark), and John (Paul Le Mat) who helps Carol (Mackenzie Phillips) get a taste of what awaits her in her teen years. There is also Laurie (Cindy Williams) who is faced with a dilemma if Steve decides he wants to leave for college. Despite the fact it’s 1962 being a teen is still met with the same things that being on the verge of adulthood presents us.

Though this isn’t exactly the 50s I do love a film that really captures the fun times of things that sort of still build off that era. It’s 1962, but the vibe of the 50s hasn’t really left the world yet. I think the director would have been better off basing the movie in 1959 at least though. For one thing people just don’t associate this image with the 60s, and a lot of the music featured in the film is not from the 60s. It was way too obvious to me the whole time that only a handful of songs were actually from 1962. The acting is superb though, and you feel like you care about every single character in the movie. They aren’t made too sweet that you don’t see their faults either.

Howard does his typical bit in the movie, and while that isn’t bad it shows he sort of got stereotyped as Opie from Andy Griffhit, and ever got to leave that role even as a teen. I’m pretty sure his character in Happy Days was a lot like Steve too. While he fits the role perfectly I think it shows Howard got stuck in a mold. While Mat, and Dreyfuss also hold their own it’s really the females that shine in this movie. I had no idea who Mackenzie Phillips was except the woman who claimed her dad had sexual relations with her, and formed a huge drug addiction. Obviously I missed she was some huge classics. My favorite was Debbie though. She had a lot of attitude, and while she could be perceived as a gold digger I just liked her personality. Her chemistry with Terry was cute. Back to Paul Le Mat though, he is one of the movies more intriguing characters. I would have had such the crush on him had I been younger.

American Graffiti is all set at night also, which creates the perfect setting. There is something charming, and lively about the night scene in the small town.  I love the vibe of the city at night, and this town captures everything I feel regarding my time out at night. By the end of the movie when the dawn is rising it feels like the whole story arrives completely around. Everyone seems different by the events that have happened. Over night all the teens have had to truly consider what options may await them if they make the choices they do.

Lucas has made a great coming of age movie. The acting it is good, and it was the starting place for many legends now like Harrison Ford, who plays a completely different guy than we are familiar with in this movie. It conveys the guys switching from teen ideas to adult ones fast, but in a complete way. My one huge tiff is that much of the music isn’t 60s music. I understand ’62 wasn’t that long after the 50s, but the music used is so staple to that era. The epilogue at the end only featured what happened to the guys though, and I would have equally wanted to know what happened to the girls.

Rating 5 of 5.

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