Monday, December 5, 2011

American Graffiti

I try to keep the reviews on my site mostly limited to movies I've never seen before, but every once in a while, I make an exception, usually because the last time I watched a movie was long before I could form an educated opinion on it. I saw American Graffiti once as a kid of maybe 10-12. All I knew at the time was it was by George Lucas, and the guy from Jaws and Harrison Ford were in it. All I remembered about it from that initial viewing was the scene where the kid was trying to buy some booze for his girl, which is still one of the most memorable scenes in the movie.

So how does American Graffiti hold up? You know, not bad. At the time it was made, George Lucas was only known for a little seen science fiction art film called THX-1138. I'm sure that based on that movie, he was having a lot of difficulty getting funding for any of his other projects. So it was probably just as much a calculated career move for him to make such a mainstream movie, even though the result is an obviously very personal, nostalgic and sentimental take on the early 60's hot rod scene that Lucas grew up around.

Set in 1962, American Graffiti follows four teens just out of high school, having one last bang in the old town before they must choose what to do with their adult lives. Steve (Ron Howard) is trying the old "let's see other people" thing on his girlfriend (Cindy Williams). Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) is on a search for a beautiful girl he saw addressing him from another car, inadvertently joining a street gang on the way. John (Paul le Mat) is the coolest kid in town with the coolest car in town, who gets saddled with a girl way too young for him, while being taunted into a race by his rival (Harrison Ford). And Toad (Charles Martin Smith) is a geeky kid who, after borrowing Steve's car, somehow picks up a girl who is way out of his league.

The four stories kind of intertwine and bounce off of each other. An alternate title could have been "Guess Who is in Which Car Now?". No, American Graffiti is better.

American Graffiti is also well known as one of the first and most important soundtrack movies. The film is wall to wall stuffed with great late 50's and early 60's period rock and roll. Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, EVERYONE else. If you wanted to, you could probably not pay attention to the dialogue at all and still enjoy the movie for the sounds alone.

The acting, though not exactly setting the world on fire, is probably the best out of any George Lucas film. The characters are all funny and likeable. Young Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford doing a bad cowboy accent are fun to watch.

The only thing I didn't really care for was the very end, where they do one of those "Where Are They Now?" freeze frames. It was really heavy handed and preachy, with one getting killed in Vietnam, and the cool kid dying in a hot rod crash. Come on, man. I felt like it was a last ditch attempt on Lucas' part to make the movie more "meaningful" or something. Totally unnecessary after 2 hours of nonstop rose-tinted nostalgia.

That aside, American Graffiti is a pretty great film. As one out of only two George Lucas directed films I even like (the other is Star Wars, duh), I'd say this is my second favorite.

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