In 1973. After sitting on the finished film for six months, Universal finally got around to releasing this relatively low-budget surprise hit that was directed and co-written by a young George Lucas. Different in almost every way from the films that Lucas would later become known for, American Graffiti is inspired by memories of his youth cruising around Modesto, California while trying to pick up girls. Set in 1962 during the last night before two high school grads head off to college, four friends spend one last hilariously wild night driving around the strip trying to get laid, find someone to buy beer for them, and give a clingy 12 year-old the slip.
What it’s lost with age. Even what’s dated kind of works. Even at the time, the clothes and expressions were from what Lucas thought of as a more innocent time. How can you not love a movie with lines like “Don’t you think the Beach Boys are boss?” and “Go kiss a duck, marblehead!”? I do have to admit though that it was bizarre watching Harrison Ford as the cocky cowboy looking to race the fastest kid in town.
What still holds up. Pretty much everything. Lucas apparently wrote the script around the rock and roll music of the 50s and early 60s and the classics play throughout the entire movie through car radios and at the sock hop. The film follows several characters throughout this one night on the strip and the stories are constantly interesecting as our heroes run into each other often yelling through car windows. Everywhere they go, they seem to run into someone they know and before long the strip starts to feel like home for us too. This style keep s the pace as fast as an Indiana Jones film.
Nice surprise for modern audiences. George Lucas did make one classic film that he didn’t eventually ruin with prequels and sequels.
Bottom line. You can feel Lucas’ love for this time and place in almost every scene. But you don’t have to be nostalgic for the music, cars, and styles of the 50s and 60s to love this movie. It’s like Superbad with less dick drawings. I can’t think of many teen party movies that were made by such a celebrated and talented filmmaker. Rent it.