Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas, Gloria Katz, Willard Huyck
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Ronny Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charlie Martin Smith, Candy Clark
The life of an American teenager has shifted many times throughout history, but the common thread that connects them all comes from every other generational group hating them. It’s an age where many still need to find themselves and do so in some destructive ways. In the case of American Graffiti, it follows the ventures of graduating seniors in 1962 right before they set out to either stay in the town or go to college.
Taking place on the last night of summer vacation, Steve (Ron Howard) and Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) discuss their future along with many others attempting to make this final night one to remember and to settle any scores. In that process, each of the young folks make important decisions that will leave ramifications for what’s next in life.
As with the ambition of the characters that sprawl throughout the film, this production highlights the beginnings of several bright careers in front and behind the camera. From George Lucas directing the film before he goes forward and takes the credibility garnered to make Star Wars and the likes of Harrison Ford, Ron Howard, and Richard Dreyfuss making their first real splashes in the social conscience. It really is special to see what all of these men would end up doing in the way they changed Hollywood with the tremendous work they put together and much of it started here.
Going off to college stands as a landmark time in the life of anyone, as it promises the opportunity to be your own person and make your own decisions. No longer do you have to adhere to the rules and regulations of your parents now that you can be on your own. In the case of this film, it falls on the idea of manhood and how each of these boys will transition into that new threshold. It beckons them to take more risks because that is what men do after all. What these teenagers figure out and what remains true today is that none of it matters in the grand scheme of life. All of the events that occur in this film are utterly useless and do not matter to them years later, much like what the epilogue indicates. A night that they believed would be legendary and would be memorable was just a blip in the monotony of life they were ready to embark on, but teenagers will always have that mindset.
This mindset makes every interaction quite laughable with how self-serious they become, but the transition into college forces some to make some difficult decisions. Take Steve, who has a girlfriend named Laurie (Cindy Williams). They go back and forth with each other regarding the status of their relationship moving forward. While trying to act like the cool guy, Steve believes that they should start to see each other when they go off to college in hopes that it may “strengthen” their bond as they come back together. Anyone can deduce the actual messaging behind this gross excuse to see others without hurting her feelings. The sequence of events that transpire in the film truly puts this conversation into perspective and allows them both to realize what might be best for them.
Many of these conversations go that way and it displays the selfish nature of the teenage years, which we’ve all encountered. I was no different growing up when I would put my own pleasures before anyone else because I deemed my feelings and experiences to be mission-critical. I cringed at times watching the film because I exhibited some of the same behavior and I would not say that I am proud of those actions. That connection lasts, as these teens come from a different time of this nation and mindset, but in the end, we all land in the same place developmentally.
American Graffiti serves as a time capsule of the concerns and exploits of the American teenager in the 1960s and the culmination at the end indicates that moment where we need to grow up. We all had that moment growing up where we knew that all of our kid nonsense should be put to rest and accept that adulthood is the next step. It may have been abrupt for this set of characters but it meets us all at some point.