American Graffiti is described as a coming-of-age story, and I guess some of the characters do change and develop, but this movie is set over the course of a few hours of one night and I think it’s better described as a snapshot of youth in small towns. It’s the night before the recent high school graduates are going off to college and it’s their night to revel in being the “way they were” one more time before everything changes. These teenagers spend the night doing the things they've done most every night- “cruising” (riding around town in their neat-o cars), chasing girls, playing rock and roll music, being generally unsure of themselves and trying to prove something.
This is a significant movie in a few ways: It’s won critical acclaim and awards including nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture, it’s been listed as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and it’s produced and directed by two of the most recognizable names in cinema, Coppola and Lucas, respectively. The film stars a huge number of incredibly talented and famous actors before they hit it big and it perfectly captures a slice of Americana by featuring a hit rock and roll soundtrack that is jam packed with classic music, cars that are considered iconic, and infamous radio DJ Wolfman Jack.
All that said, I did not enjoy watching this movie. It was almost two hours of very little plot and meaning, which I think may be the appeal for people of a certain age where the characters can reflect real life. It felt like watching a student film at times, very much like Don’s Plum. I was pretty bored. My boyfriend, who really is into hot rods and classic cars, found the vehicles amazing but even he became bored after so long. The soundtrack was a lot of fun but for some reason (you gotta play rock music LOUD, man?) was so much louder than the dialogue that the songs became cringe-worthy.
But that was the evening when we watched it. The movie settled better overnight. Today I’m happy to have seen it and am even looking back on parts of it fondly. The comedy/drama seems a little funnier, a little more poignant the next day. I imagine I’ll remember American Graffiti as a true classic in a little while. Which puts me in good company: Tomatometer score: 95% (!), 7.5/10 stars on IMDb, 3.75/5 stars on Letterboxd, and the undoubted thanks of millions who love the TV Show Happy Days.