American Graffiti (1973) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for language and some sexuality
Running time: 110 min. (1978 re-release is 112 min.)
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith
Director: George Lucas
Screenplay: George Lucas, Gloria Katz, Willard Huyck
Review published March 13, 1998
The year is 1962, with small town America one year before the tumult of chaos. Before Kennedy died, before Viet Nam, or the turbulent times the 60s are known for, this is American youth at its most innocent. This film follows the course of a group of high school teens about to graduate and go off to college, and perhaps never see each other or their town again.
It's stunning to think of how cinema and American culture today might have been different had George Lucas not made this film. Without the success of this, he may not have had the clout to make Star Wars which led to the Indiana Jones series as well. The 50s nostalgia craze this film caused would not have occurred the way it did, leaving us without "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley", and denying Ron Howard (Grand Theft Auto, The Shootist) the skill to later direct such films as Splash and Apollo 13. Lucas would not have met Harrison Ford (The Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner), and cast him as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, and we would be without the largest box office star of all time. Oh yeah, and Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws, Close Encounters) became a star from this movie, too.
Lucas is a skillful director, it's a shame he's only directed a handful of films during this period of inspiration, as he almost single-handedly pulled this fine film off. Outstanding acting and music, I almost felt nostalgic even though I was not even born yet during the period this takes place in. American Graffiti is a masterful period piece, which every succeeding generation will try to emulate, but this is still the best. This is time vault material.
It's almost a bittersweet experience to realize all of the turmoil our country would go through, and how much innocence we would lose after the year 1962. It's no wonder the 70s culture were 50s crazy. They wanted to go back to the time when the youth weren't dying in a foreign land, stoned out on drugs, or killing each other in the streets. American Graffiti may not have any overt themes, but underneath the surface of the narrative it's speaking volumes.
-- Followed by More American Graffiti (1979)
©1998 Vince Leo