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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 15.07%
Average: 1.37%
Pretty Bad: 8.22%
Total Crap: 1.37%

2 reviews, 61 user ratings

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American Graffiti
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by MP Bartley

"The Soundtrack to Our Lives"
5 stars

How many people can place a memory, or an event, or a place and time by a certain song? I know that when I left University I made up a mix tape of songs that reminded me of my Uni days and gave them to all my closest friends, so we'd all remember the songs that we danced to and the tunes that soundtracked our happy days there. I still think of those people and that time whenever I hear one of those songs now. It's to this sense of nostalgia that George Lucas plays upon.

Yes folks, George Lucas directed this one. It's strange to think that with all his gazillions of dollars and international fame that Lucas has only directed five films. The three Star Wars flicks everyone knows about, and anyone with a faint smattering of film history will know Lucas' debut was THX -1138. But sandwiched inbetween his debut and the film that immortalised him, is Lucas' tribute to his college days and what happens to be his finest film, both hilarious and touching.

Set on one night in smalltown America 1962, 'American Graffiti' features four friends at a crossroads in their life and resigned to having their last night together. Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) is torn between moving away to college and staying at home. Steve (Ron Howard) is adamant that moving away is the best thing to do, but isn't sure if his relationship with Laurie (Cindy Williams) will last. Nerdy Terry (Charles Martin Smith) just wants some fun with his buddies before they break up and winds up with a hot car and a hot girl, Debbie (Candy Clark), that he desperately wants to impress. John (Paul LeMat) meanwhile, the James Dean of the bunch, is happy to stay home and just ride cars all night. He doesn't count on having the company of an impressionable 12 year old for the night, Carol (Mackenzie Philips) however, or being followed around town by Bob (Harrison Ford) who wants to see if he's as fast in a car as make people make out.

The first thing that strikes you about 'American Graffiti', especially if you've just read that summing up, is that this a George Lucas film full of people. And I mean real people, not Jedi's or storm troopers or walking carpets or little green Yodas, but teenagers and children and policemen. Like, with jobs and real emotions and stuff. Do you remember real people George? No doubt if he was to re-release this, he'd CGI in the moon and another hundred extras.

Nevertheless, it's striking how much of a people picture this is. It's almost Robert Altman-esque at times with its lack of general plot, criss-crossing characters and naturalistic sound. And it really proves the lie that Lucas can't write dialogue. He can, it just seems that he's forgotten how to. But every character here breathes and feels real. Even characters that would seem to be cliches spring out at you and have an energy to them, simply because you can feel how deeply Lucas cares about them and the material. Fancy that, Lucas caring about characters? It's almost like an early 'American Pie', but without the crude dick and semen jokes, and a real heart instead.

It's steeped in heady nostalgia and shows that if you take Lucas away from a Nintendo, he can direct real people in real situations. It bursts with colour from the 60's dress (no dull greys or blacks here and no-one is wearing the same clothes) to the loving, lingering shots over the various cars that the characters drive. When the action moves onto the streets, it's lit and shot beautifully, but with naturalism. It really carries across a sense of a wonderfully balmy summers night and makes you want to crack open a few beers yourself and wander the streets breathing in the air.

The cast too are full of youthful vigour and enthusiasm for the material and really round the characters out. Howard proves that he was a damn useful actor before going behind the camera, although his story-line with the dull Williams is the most serious and least interesting of them all. Dreyfuss is a twitchy, charming presence running in and out of trouble whilst searching for a perfect blonde that he's caught just a glimpse of.

Martin Smith has by far the most comic storyline. He's a bundle of nervous energy trying to prove himself as a man to Debbie and he's constantly hilarious. Clark really deepens what could have been a stock cliche of a character and makes Debbie an attractive if ditzy girl, rather than just a dumb blonde. Their storyline is a pleasure to follow and an extended joke of Terry trying to buy some booze has the best punchline of the film. It's the actor who made the least impact after 'American Graffiti' that's the star however.
LeMat is great as the growly John, steadily getting frustrated by the perky Carol that he's inadvertendly picked up. In what could have been a sleazy and suspect storyline, LeMat and Philips play it beautifully and even a little poignantly. And rounding out the list of soon-to-be-huge-stars is Ford as the villain of the piece. Despite being the bad guy, he still gets a lot of laughs, most admittedly from his stupid hat.

The final thing that invests 'American Graffiti' with such a nostalgic air, is the constant soundtrack of 60's classics. This was way before the concept of soundtrack albums came about, so it's hardly a shameless plug-in, but works superbly instead. Just watch and see how many scenes tie in with the lyrics of the song playing, or how many scenes are actually the same length of the song playing. It's a film that wil have you humming for days afterwards.

Colourful, vibrant and deeply poignant, Lucas could do a lot worse than watch this again and see what happens when you get a great script, a great bunch of actors and give them a great bunch of characters to run with. I'm not particularly excited by the next 'Star Wars' film, but if Lucas announced he was doing an 'American Graffiti' follow-up, I'd be straight in the line for a ticket. I was born a long time after the 60's, but after watching this, it's like I was almost there.

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originally posted: 06/12/04 01:30:45
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User Comments

8/25/20 morris campbell dont care 4 it sorry 2 offend 2 stars
5/03/19 Action movie fan Believable characters and good music make this one worth seeing 4 stars
11/09/18 Carl Bruun Beautifully nostalgic with real characters and superb soundtrack. 5 stars
3/30/17 Jeff Wilder George Lucas's best film. 5 stars
8/03/10 Thom Soncrant Watching "American Graffiti" can't make you younger, but it helps one retain their youth. 5 stars
5/09/10 Jack Spencer Not just a movie, it was your life! 5 stars
11/04/09 Thom Soncrant "American Graffiti" the best movie, ever! Well worth watching over again. 5 stars
4/13/07 David Pollastrini didn't like it when I first saw it but it grows on you! 4 stars
4/12/07 Michelle S. My all-time favorite feel good movie...great actors, funny...a true classic film! 5 stars
5/11/06 jonathon lebo better than grease i agree 5 stars
2/24/06 Carolyn IT IS A GREAT FUN FRIDAY NIGHT 5 stars
9/13/05 Zack good 4 stars
7/29/05 Green Gremlin Makes "Grease " look like "Sesame Street" !!! 5 stars
5/30/05 Jake A great film that shows the end of a era of innocence 5 stars
5/13/05 Indrid Cold Fantastic, highly influential nostalgia film. Note-perfect look and feel. 5 stars
4/28/05 GIT-N-IT-DONE I love this movie, due to the awesome Ford coupe and the excellent choice of music. 5 stars
4/26/05 Eddie McKnight Heartwarming and Funny 5 stars
11/22/04 1979wildcat great in 1973 classic in 2004 for car buffs 5 stars
8/19/04 courtney better than that Grease crap 5 stars
5/21/04 Beka Nelson Definate Classic 5 stars
5/01/04 jesse better then any american pie crap 5 stars
1/24/04 Hal Johnson Changed my life. 5 stars
11/22/03 ross hendrick the greatest movie starring richard dreyfuss 5 stars
10/06/03 DM Lots of fun and at times touching-possibly the best teen story ever told 5 stars
9/17/03 Alan Wonderful collage of the main drag in a mid-sized town. Lucas funded Star Wars from this. 5 stars
6/18/03 Goofy Maxwell Writing on the wall for the era, & "Graffiti" nearly anachronism in hip-hop age. 3 stars
5/23/03 Mathew This most terrible movie I have ever seen. I said to myself, " What a waste of time." 2 stars
2/11/03 Caroline It was pretty darn good... 4 stars
2/11/03 Ubu the Ripper A classic. Thank God Lucas didn't destroy this with 5 sequels! 5 stars
10/22/02 Amanda Kickass movie. Don't watch it with the folks if you want them to get nonastalgic. 5 stars
10/03/02 Justin Excellent Film 5 stars
7/12/02 KMG Pretty cool....lots of talent here 4 stars
6/25/02 Charles Tatum Lucas' best film that does not have robots in it 5 stars
5/17/02 brittany awesome! i watched it three times already(i love anything with cindy williams in it) 5 stars
3/24/02 Teresa This is the sequel to Radioland Murders with Curt Henderson the son of Penny and Roger. 5 stars
3/22/02 Luke Meighan Hilarious; the greatest teen movie ever made 5 stars
2/22/02 mwildema classic 5 stars
1/20/02 Andrew Sides This is a rich and timeless movie with universal themes plus great music 5 stars
1/01/02 Andrew Carden A Pale Look Into The 50's, but Tries Hard To No Avail. 2 stars
10/31/01 Katie I love this movie! 5 stars
8/08/01 Mr. Hat Look at it this way: It's much better than the "Grease" movies by far. 4 stars
6/08/01 jeff kinney it was a great teen moive 4 stars
4/02/01 Jesse L A great movie, incubator of stars, only immature people don't like it like teen critic II 5 stars
2/14/01 staci very good 5 stars
2/04/01 Avenger girl I like this movie,because its a glossed fantasy of what really happened back then 4 stars
10/16/00 sexy thing Good story, cars, and music 5 stars
10/13/00 Chel*C the movie sucked! but i did like the cars! 2 stars
8/26/00 Matthew Bartley Lucas' beat movie. He can do dialogue and work with actors 5 stars
4/01/00 Greg Schmidt Excellent! I loved it! 5 stars
2/29/00 yankee this movie is great, if the 60's really were like that, I grew up in the wrong decade 5 stars
11/22/99 Ralf Behet Superbly captures the mood of the early sixties. One of the best films of its kind. 5 stars
8/19/99 Chris Duffy The most effective use of sound I've every 5 stars
6/25/99 David Keech The "Dazed & Confused" for Generation Xers. What a great film. 5 stars
6/21/99 IACoolJ Saw it only because it is directed by George Lucas. Had to double check the credits. Awful 2 stars
5/22/99 Cage Much better than I had expected. 5 stars
3/14/99 Cool Thing A two hour Happy Days/Laverne And Shirley crossover... but better. 4 stars
2/11/99 Vick Di Brecci A very boring movie with an adequate Dreyfuss perf. Nicely filmed ending but not enough. 2 stars
11/27/98 Mr.Pink Nostalgic bullshit that bored the hell out of me!! 1 stars
10/27/98 Silent Rob Even if it seems a bit dated, stylewise, the themes are still engrossing. And what a cast! 5 stars
10/24/98 Negative Creep Whoa This is by that Guy Who MAde StarWars Right? 4 stars
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  01-Aug-1973 (PG)


  02-Feb-1974 (PG)

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