Americana Movie Month: "American Grafitti" Review

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A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college.
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Americana Movie Month: "American Grafitti" Review

-- Rating: PG
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 11, 1973
Directed by: George Lucas
Genre: Comedy

Long before he started exciting fans with images of lightsabers and spaceships, George Lucas delighted fans with "American Graffiti," a film that reminded viewers of a simpler time. The film is one of those iconic films that only get better as time passes by.

"American Graffiti" follows a group of teenagers on one single night in 1962. Every person in the film has a different personality and issues they need to face, but the film tries to focus on the memorable events that take place as they cruise around an unnamed California town. Steve (Ron Howard, "Happy Days") and his best friend Curt (Richard Dreyfuss, "Jaws") want to spend one last night cutting loose before leaving for college the next day. Though Curt is nervous and Steve is excited, over the course of the night, they realize that things are changing.

John (Paul Le Mat, "American History X") is the stereotypical twenty-something who doesn't want to grow up. When Carol (Mackenzie Phillips, "One Day at a Time") sneaks into his car, he finds himself thinking about his teen years and contemplating what life holds for him. While John is a little morose at times, Carol is just happy to be up so late to see what older teens do at night. The film also introduces characters like the Blonde (Suzanne Somers, "Three's Company") and Steve's girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams, "Laverne & Shirley").

George Lucas admits that he drew inspiration from his own life when working on the screenplay and during filming, and it clearly shows. "American Graffiti" is one of the most realistic films starring teen actors, because it weaves together so many different stories and plots. From the moment that Curt sees the Blonde, he becomes fascinated with her, willing to do anything to get a second look. The beautiful woman represents his inability to grow up. Though he knows that he needs to move on and go to college, he's constantly searching for something that will make him stay home.

Curt, Laurie, and Steve all find a way back to their old high school, which helps them move on with their lives. Steve and Laurie discover that they aren't as excited about the future as they thought, and they realize that saying goodbye to their glory years and each other might be harder than they thought. Curt has a completely different experience in the old school. His visit makes him realize that he shouldn't hold onto the past and that he needs to explore his future.

Every character in the film comes to a new realization by the end of the night. The nerdy character of Terry (Charles Martin Smith), whom his fellow students named Most Likely to Succeed, finally meets the first love of his life in Debbie (Candy Clark). When he finally "succeeds" with Debbie, viewers will cheer for the character. Other characters discover that they can't wait to leave the town behind, while some decide that staying home is the best option.

"American Graffiti" takes viewers back to the 1960s, when things were different. The film has an amazing soundtrack, playing the likes of The Heartbeats, Buster Brown, The Flamingoes, and The Big Bopper in the background. Those songs might remind some viewers of their teen years, while others might find themselves humming along with the songs.

Anyone who watches the film will find that he or she relates to a specific character in the film. Phillips is perfect as the spunky little Carol, longing for the days when she can stay up late and drive around town with her friends. Many viewers can relate to her because they remember being an awkward younger teen, wishing and hoping for the things that an older sibling had. When she takes things a little too far with John, it's a turning point for both characters. That single moment makes John realize that he needs to change his life, which is a familiar thought for many.

Viewers might also relate to the fears that Laurie and Steve have and their inability to let go of the past even if the future offers a better option. Some with find that Curt is the best character because of the way that he seeks something he cannot have even at the expense of those around him. Regardless of which character it is, viewers will find one that they root for throughout the film.

When "American Graffiti" landed in theaters, viewers fell in love with the film. The combination of various stories, interesting characters, a strong soundtrack, and realistic settings led many to feel a connection to the film. Those same elements of the film remain powerful today and might lead a new generation of fans to fall in love with the film.

Rating 4 out of 5