AFI Top 100: American Graffiti (1973)

The eleventh in a series reviewing the American Film Institute Top 100 in random order.

“Don’t say anything and we’ll get along just fine.” – Cindy Williams as Laurie


Growing up as a child of divorced parents in Laurel, Maryland, a commuter town halfway between Baltimore and DC, I spent a good chunk of my afternoons parked in front of the television eating whatever junk food I could find in the cupboard and watching reruns of M*A*S*H and Happy Days on Channel 5. I enjoyed the former quite a bit but the latter never piqued my interest much. I mean, sure, it was funny some of the time, but I never really connected with Richie or Ralph or Potsie, or even understood why anyone would call themselves ‘Potsie’ (and this is from someone who spent years letting people call him ‘One Ball’). And don’t get me started on why these three high school crackers from Milwaukee would idolize a thirty year-old Jewish guy in a leather jacket. It just didn’t resonate for me on any level, and American Graffiti ultimately feels like little more than a Happy Days movie.

Any interest I had at all in this film came down to one thing. It was written and directed by George Lucas. Yes, that George Lucas. Greedo-shot-first George Lucas. And you can absolutely tell. The dialog is stilted and overblown. If you think Hayden Christensen was bad, try watching Richard Dreyfuss deliver lines like, “Stand by for justice!” It’s just atrocious. The plot follows, or more accurately, tries to follow a group of archetypes, er, teenagers in 1962 and the shenanigans they get up to over the course of a single night. Dreyfuss is the everyman who has doubts about going away to college back east, Ron Howard is a more date-rape-y version of Richie Cunningham, and Paul Le Mat is the coolest guy in town with his yellow deuce coupe. Harrison Ford shows up as a cowboy driving a ’55 Belair and does the best he can with his ten lines or so. Oh, and the bespectacled dork from The Untouchables plays a younger bespectacled dork here. The cast is good, but they’re just not given anything of real interest to do or say.

Like many movies of it’s time, it chugs along at a steady pace and then hits its climax two or three minutes before the closing credits with little or no warning. It’s as if writers back then had no interest in building tension. Maybe I’d have felt differently if I’d been of age and seen it when it came out, eleven years after it’s set. I wonder if people who grew up in that era react differently to it? That’s not quite enough time for nostalgia to set in, though, in my book. I’m not exactly chomping at the bit for a fond look at what high school life was like back in 2003, right? Most perplexing of all is this movie’s #62 position on the AFI Top 100, up 15 places in the latest poll. That’s ten ahead of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and thirty in front of Pulp Fiction. I just don’t understand.


Up next in the queue, 1946′s The Best Years of Our Lives, in which our hero discovers that war may be hell, but peace is the fucking worst.


Click here for an Index of my AFI Top 100 movie reviews.

24 comments on “AFI Top 100: American Graffiti (1973)

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    Hey Austin, Amen to your words. On the college cpmaus, I have seen the evolution of student entitlement, narcissism, and lack of being responsible. More of Sad Days than Happy Days ! However, just like the evening news, we hear and talk about all the bad in this world, but I do believe there is more good than bad reporting the bad is an attention grabber. Similarly, I believe there are more good students than bad ones. If we could all just become more positive in our daily attitudes; be more assertive in mentoring our young; get away from trying to be so politically correct, we might just survive (and possibly possibly) change this generational character flaw. Take care my friend, Larry

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