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American Graffiti Review

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American Graffiti Review

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I would consider myself a pretty big fan of movies, and I am constantly working my way through the classics, a, I have to say, American Graffiti is the best, most exciting, and most emotionally powerful movies that I have seen in a long time. Nothing that I can say in this review can accurately portray how outstanding this movie is, and I believe that it is one of the best coming-of age stories of all time.

George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola

The development of the film is almost as interesting as the movie itself. It was released in 1973 and Directed by George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, and is loosely based on his experiences. It was produced by Lucas’ friend and mentor, Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola who offered to buy the movie after it was almost cancelled or drastically re-edited. The film got talked up a lot throughout the studios, and it was eventually released on August 11th, 1973, to strong critical reception and it became one of the most profitable American films of all time, and has been considered a classic for a long time, but has never been as popular as it should be, as I feel it is as good as, if not better than, the best teen coming-of-age films of all time like the Breakfast Club and Stand by Me.

As for the plot of the film, the story follows a group of teenagers in the early 1960’s at the end of summer as two of them, Steve and Curtis, (Ron Howard and Richard Dreyfus) are questioning whether or not they want to go too college or stay in their hometown. It features 4 interconnected storylines as the group deal with the issues facing them at the end of their adolescence.  Steve is in a very rough patch with his Girlfriend, Laurie, as he is planning on going off to college and see other people, which he tells her will be the case. Curtis wanders through the town, constantly running into a beautiful and mysterious girl and getting wrapped up in a street gang. Terry (Charles Marin Smith), the group’s nerdy friend, picks up a girl in Steve’s cool car and goes through a series of shenanigans with her as they try to have a good night. John Milner (Paul Le Mat) drives around the town in his now famous ’38 Deuce Coup, trying to pick up girls, and ends up with a younger, less attractive girl in his car. All of these plots are intertwined by the end, and just as you think one story is way better than the rest, the next one always changes your mind

 

Ultimately, all characters either feel more self-assured in their position in life and the town, or they become convinced that they need to change. Steve pisses off his girlfriend and ends up wandering around, feeling lonely, and he realizes that his place is not in college, but with his Girlfriend. Terry, after being dragged around and put in a variety of ridiculous situations by the girl, Debbie, that he picks up, he allows himself to look at life in a more relaxed way and enjoy his youth while he has it, and to not be so concerned with appearances. Although those may not sound like the most original character arcs, the performances and the situations bring outstanding emotional weight to each of these stories, and the small details of how both Steve and Terry react to their predicaments give the film the realism and relatability that makes a teen movie great. The more unique stories and arcs come with Curtis and Milner. Curtis is initially planning on not going off to college as he feels it won’t get him anywhere and he feels that he belongs in his hometown. As he saunters through town on what may or may not be his last day, he catches glimpses of a beautiful girl who he believes is in love with him, but she keeps getting away. He ends up in trouble with a local gang, The Pharaohs, and they drag him along on a few extra-legal shenanigans, which he proves good at. The Gang likes him and let him in, but they tell him that they will see him tomorrow. He then goes to the local radio station, where he meets the host, Wolfman Jack, who he asks to send a message to the girl to meet him. John Milner is the towns’ fastest drag racer, and still lives in the town after not going to college. He sees a group of girls in a car and asks if any of them want to take a ride with him, and one girl, Carol comes in to his car, who is not particularly attractive and on the younger side. Milner still drives around with her, and despite her age and initial obnoxiousness they form a strong friendship. When asked about her, Milner tells some of his friends that she is her cousin, and she storms off, but after some hesitation, he takes her back. Throughout the night, the two form an powerful bond, which the audience really cares about through great subversion of expectations, witty dialogue, and excellent acting. During their drive, they run across a man named Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) who wants to challenge Milner for the title of the “fastest car in the valley”. After dropping Carol off, Milner races Falfa at the break of dawn in front of all the characters and much of the town. He pulls ahead and Falfa, with an upset Laurie (Steve’s Girlfriend) in the passenger seat, goes off the road and flips, and John pulls Falfa out and Steve saves Laurie just before the car explodes. The final scene of the film is at the airport as Steve chooses to stay while Curtis realizes that he doesn’t belong in that town. As the plane is taking off, Curtis sees the blonde girl driving by one last time. The film ends with a brutal gut punch of a “where are they now” slide and ends on an excellent note.

 

The film paints a great picture of life in the US in the early 60’s through not only the obligatory excellent direction, production design, etc. from Lucas, but also a great slice of the popular music of the time to set the mood. The film frames each character on how they interact with the people of the town and how they move through the Town in general. Terry gets into numerous crazy situations out of his general control, as he is pulled around by Debbie, reflecting the lack of structure that he needs to have in his life. Steve’s movement throughout the town is dictated by his relationship with Laurie, showing his connection to her and how that connection connects him to the town, giving him his reason to stay there and not go off to college with Curtis. Curtis saunters through the town, seeking thrills and just relaxing and taking in the night, while also sporadically chasing the blonde girl, while also being separated from the rest of his friends. This shows his lack of a true connection, leading to his decision to leave at the end. Milner casually cruises through town, feeling at home, and his victory over Falfa proves to him that he is still the fastest in the valley, despite his earlier doubts in himself and his abilities, leading to no change in his ways, whether for better or worse.

American Graffiti is outstanding in it’s portrayal of the challenges of choosing what to do with your life, and being able to recognize when you belong somewhere. Lucas crafted a masterpiece in the depiction of the intricacies of this choice and the adventures of young adulthood.

 

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American Graffiti Review