Tuesday, July 14, 2015

AFI Top 100, #77: "American Graffiti" (1973)

Movie Stats:
Released 1973 (USA)
American, in English
Director - George Lucas
Stars - Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith

Plot Summary:
In 1962 California, friends Curt (Dreyfuss), Steve (Howard), John (Le Mat), and Terry (Smith), all recent high school grads, have one last night of teenaged fun before buckling down into their adult lives.

Brief male nudity (butt only); mild violence; implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
Holy crap, it’s SO boring. It’s mostly just them cruising around in their cars for two hours.

It’s not even half as funny as it thinks it is.

With the exception of Dreyfuss, I wasn’t especially impressed with the performances (although it was fun to see Harrison Ford, as Bob Falfa, play out of type).

The little “where are they now” section at the end was surprisingly maudlin. The tone of it didn’t really fit the film. Maybe that was the point? “Welcome to adulthood! It sucks.”

Good Stuff:
Great soundtrack.

Really good performance from Dreyfuss. His storyline makes the whole movie. Howard’s is boring teenaged drama; Le Mat’s is pointless; and Smith’s is supposed to bring the laughs; but Dreyfuss got the meaty role, the question that the movie is actually pondering, and he did really well with it.

I like that it explores a part of the teenage experience that is rarely covered in film: that making the transition from childhood to adulthood is as frightening as it is thrilling, and that it can be difficult to have the courage to embrace that transition with enthusiasm.

The Verdict:
I mean, it’s not like it’s crap or anything. I just saw an awful lot of reviews online waxing poetic about it being an “American classic” and I can’t really find it in myself to agree. This is another one of those movies where I think to myself, “I totally get why Baby Boomers love this.” I really do. This is Baby Boomer nostalgia through and through, much like Forrest Gump is. So I understand how it could end up on this list, because I’m certain most of the AFI voters are Baby Boomers and their elders, but I’m not convinced that it belongs on the list.  I really found it so incredibly dull, which was disappointing, because I was actually looking forward to it. I thought it was going to be fun (I saw it once before, but it was nearly 30 years ago, so I couldn’t remember any of it). I didn’t have fun, unless you count the game I played on my phone while I was watching it. 

I give the movie 2.5 stars.


Patricia said...

Oh alas. I was maybe two years younger than Mackenzie Phillips was (or was playing) when I first saw this and I fell HARD for John Milner. And I totally loved the music. And perhaps my mother deciding I was old enough to watch it also made a difference. What if I said that I think maybe you are old enough to handle the content?

Richard Dreyfuss was quite amazing and I have kind of had a thing for him ever since this role. His character reminds me a lot of my college boyfriend.

I think the whole tone is kind of precipitous. John Milner knows he will get beat, Steve takes a George Bailey fall and stays with his girlfriend, Terry the Toad is trying to prentend he's much cooler than he is, Carol isn't old enough, even Wolfman Jack's freezer isn't working. But there's so much fun amongst the anxiety, which sums up being a teenager for me, at least.

Also, this was the movie that the Filmspotting podcast used for Massacre Theater this week. They performed the scene where John Milner tells Carol the Beach Boys aren't a great band and they call each other names.

balyien said...

Hmm, John is the kind of character I probably would have loved as a teenager (see also John [Judd Nelson] from "The Breakfast Club") but now, as an adult, I think is just a jerk, and also kind of a loser.

I think it's funny that your mom deemed you "old enough" for the content. It's hardly racy, especially by the standards of 80s teenager flicks. Was your mom a big prude like mine?

The more I reflect on this film, the more I think it's actually kind of a kid's film. When I was looking at quotes from it to post on my FB, I was struck by how juvenile all the dialogue seemed. Maybe that's why you liked it so much as a young teenager. It really was written for someone your age. Have you seen it as an adult?