Matt Hackmann

Movie Review - American Graffiti

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American Graffiti

Before Star Wars and after THX 1138, George Lucas made a little film called American Graffiti. Despite studios acting like assholes, as the often do, the film was a financial success, making fifteen times more than its budget on first theatrical run, and was welcomed to critical acclaim.

Graffiti is a coming of age type story set in the early 60s, following four groups of mostly high school seniors, as they burn through one last night of teenagery before going their separate ways to begin the next chapters of their lives. Steve (Ron Howard) is planning to go off to college and tries to get his girlfriend to go along with the idea of an open relationship. Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) is having second thoughts about college, and has various hi-jinks and adventures as he tracks down a woman in a white Thunderbird who randomly mouthed "I love you" to him at a stop light. Street racer Milner (Paul Le Mat) is just out cruising in his "piss yellow" hot rod when he finds himself in the company of young a teen aged Carol (Mackenzie Phillips). Finally, "The Toad", who is borrowing Steve's car, picks up a random girl and spends the evening cruising with her and getting into various troubles. Somewhere in there, Harrison Ford shows up and acts like a dick.

I'll be blunt: I didn't enjoy this movie. For the longest time as I was watching, I kept asking myself "where does the plot come in?" Almost immediately, we're introduced to a shit ton of characters who then go their separate ways. Every few minutes, the plot narrative will bounce between one of the four groups making it hard to gain a mental foothold of what's going on for the first half hour or so. I probably wouldn't have had this issue had I realized going in that there is no central plot and this is, more or less, a slice of life piece. The stories of each group interweave every once and again and all come together at the end, but there's no singular plot thread holding the pieces together.

Our characters are the usual fare I would expect for a baby boomers era group of teenagers; namely, they're all a bunch of ass wagons with nice looking cars. Steve treats his girlfriend like shit, making demands of her after breaking the news that, while he's away, they should see other people to "strengthen their relationship". Curt gets a raging boner from a passing stranger in a vehicle and this is the catalyst for his entire arc. Perhaps I'm an oddball, but when random people yell things of this ilk at me from cars (or otherwise make similar statements to me), I generally raise an eyebrow, shrug, and continue on with life (this has happened before and on multiple occasions). "Toad" plays the stereotypical "geek + car + girl" role, nigh identical to "Farmer Ted" in Sixteen Candles. Interestingly, the most likable character in the movie is the motor head, Milner. Yes, he doesn't treat Carol the greatest, but he makes the decision not to be an ephebophile and sticks with that the entire movie.

The one facet of this movie I did find interesting was the soundtrack. From beginning to end, it plays as if we're listening to a radio station complete with DJ cut ins and advertisements. Both the content and the station itself play some affect the story and sometimes ties scenes from different groups together chronologically. I thought it was a pretty nifty touch and definitely helped set the tone and feel of the film. Not that it had any problem with that before.

So, I'm not a fan of American Graffiti, though I can see why others might like it. I actually felt while watching that it felt a lot like Animal House, which, incidentally, I didn't really enjoy either. Luckily, George Lucas made a couple of other films that are entertaining to watch.

Rating: 2/5

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