PG. A PG I wouldn't let my kids watch.
DIRECTOR: George Lucas
Oh my goodness. At one point, George Lucas was an extremely talented director. This raises too many questions. Did Star Wars destroy a man so badly? Lucas might be the cautionary tale of what instant success does to a person because the man had something that I haven't seen since the first Star Wars. What happens to a person if he can direct something like American Graffiti and then go right into forever being Mr. Star Wars?
Before I go into a full critique of this movie, I have to say that this would would share an amazing billing with Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!! Sure, I haven't seen the last one and Richard Linklater directed the other two himself, but this is a movie encapsulating what being an adolescent meant in the context of a generation. American Graffiti is 1962 small town America. I don't think every town was like this, or else it would simply be a prequel to Mad Max, but this is how Lucas remembers it. Dazed and Confused does the same day in 1976: Graduation Day. Everybody Wants Some touches on 1980. Perhaps we'll get a much delayed '90s film, but there is a tonal similarity to all these movies. They aren't about a single protagonist, but rather the tale of a subculture and the many narratives that they present in a single night. (I'm going to be wildly embarassed if I'm way off about Everybody Wants Some!!)
While not going full Casablanca, there is something very special about the fact that this was written not as a nostalgic romp, but rather near the moment. Taking place in 1962 and filmed in 1973, there's not a degree of rose colored glasses. If I went back and filmed a movie in the '60s, it'd be filled with nonstop sockhops and knife fights. Just for fun, I'd have Jimi Hendrix walking across the background holding a sign that simply said, "Ban the Bomb." But the eleven year gap might be just the right amount of time to reflect on childhood from the perspective of an adult without losing the tone at the time. The technology is borderline the same and the political climate isn't all that different. (Okay, sure it is. But you can still complain about the reprocussions of the era.)
It is truly bizarre to see Ron (billed as "Ronny") Howard playing his Happy Days character as a pervy version of the same character. I don't know if one performance influenced the casting of another, but without imdb'ing it, I hope that his Graffiti character caused him to be hired on Happy Days. I'm going to establish that Richard Dreyfuss is pretty much given a free pass to play everything. I know that there are probably some less than amazing movies starring Dreyfuss. I can think of Poseidon off the top of my head. But Dreyfuss has many of the same qualities that Philip Seymour Hoffman had. He's a realistic everyday dude that can hold a scene and give it realism. One of my biggest criticisms of George Lucas is that he always lacked the ability to direct actors well. Looking at Hayden Christiansen as my Exhibit A, looking back at the actors in this movie lets me see insight into a very different director. I keep repeating that I'm really not the same person that I was eight years ago and that guy wasn't the same person eight years before that. George Lucas clearly has to be a different individual than what he has presented in recent history. Graffiti is a special effects free movie. It seems much more like a passion project than an attempt to create the ultimate science fiction movie. Perhaps he lost the forest through the trees, but stripping away all of those special effects conventions reveals a fairly masterful storyteller. I know that Lucas created THX-1138 mostly as a student film before this, but this seems his only attempt at clear movie making. I read somewhere that Francis Ford Coppola, as part of his American Zoetrope days, kind of hates what Star Wars did to Lucas. I kind of get it here. This movie is well crafted without all the glitter, which is special. I can't believe that I'm comparing myself to him, but I often pull out from my bag of tricks when directing because I'm afraid to be emotionally vulnerable. Vulnerable means something more to me than glitz and glamour.
I don't know if this is someone's adolescence or not. But the thing that really matters is that element really seems to ring true. Flashing back to my Thomas Video days, I remember one of my co-workers crapping all over this movie. One of my "bosses" (I put that in quotation marks because the story is too long to explain) really loved this movie and wouldn't shut up about it. I refused to watch it because he liked it so much and he was the worst. But that's not the movie's fault. I guess I had that Fight Club knee-jerk reaction where I place responsibilty on the film for its fanbase. American Graffiti may not be reality, but there's nothing fake about the movie whatsoever. I want to meet this George Lucas again. I don't want a world without Star Wars. I just didn't want the price of Star Wars to be a world where this director disappeared.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.