American Graffiti

AFI Rank: #77
Year Released: 1973
Director: George Lucas
Actors: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams

American Graffiti was a labor of love for George Lucas, who was writing much of the story based on his own experiences growing up. He managed to bring together a collection of excellent actors to show what being a teenager in 1962 was like. It offers a great mix of characters. There's the heading-to-college guy who is eager to experience the world. There's the guy who's nervous about leaving home. There's the guy who WANTS to leave home but didn't get into college. It's interesting that for the guys it's about who is going or not going to college. For the girls, there seems to be no sense at all that that is an option. Their gripes are mainly that their guys are leaving them behind. There's no sense at all that they have a future beyond waiting for their guys.

The movie interweaves a number of character's stories over their one last night before some of the guys are slated to head off to college. They merge and diverge as they pass each other on the cruising strip, listen to great rock music, and have relationships form and break up. For those who say cruising died after 1962, I'll point out that there were still places people went cruising even in the 80s and 90s, so it didn't die out completely.

Yes, some of the behavior might seem immature, but that's the point. These are kids on the verge of adulthood. They sometimes say silly things, or get confused. As a teen watching the movie everything makes perfect sense, and as an adult watching it one sees where the logic wasn't quite all there. The changes in perspective make this a fascinating film to re-watch every few years and see how one's point of view about it changes.

The movie gets great kudos for having a wealth of strong female characters - something that many films do not offer. But, even so, it is amazing that throughout the entire movie the women never talk with each other. They are only there to be talked to by guys. The one time two women talk to each other in a bathroom, they are solely focused on the men in their life and how hard it is to have them leave. That's it.

I enjoy watching this movie as a view into a snapshot of time. Sure, people weren't perfect - they never are. But they do the best they can, finding a path through the situations life throws at them, listening to music they adore, trying to do the right thing. Making mistakes, lying, and finally admitting the truth.

Well recommended.

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The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100