On the last night before two of the guys head off to college out east, the teenagers of this small town meet at Burger City to have one last great night. Steve Bolander, the confident former class president, gives his car to Terry “the Toad” Fields, wanting to give it to someone to enjoy while he is away. He finds himself trying to figure out how he can continue his relationship with now high school senior Laurie Henderson. Toad is excited about how the car will increase his social status, but he does not quite know how to use his new resource. Curt Henderson, who is heading out with Steve, is going through a life crisis, as he is not ready to leave behind the small town life and take on the responsibility of representing the town at his new university. Meanwhile, John Milner continues to try maintaining his social connection with the town and the high school crowd as the cool rebel who lives by his own rules. This would continue except for the presence of a new rebel from a neighboring town, Bob Falfa, who is looking to challenge the local tough guy.
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss (Curt), Ron Howard (Steve), Paul Le Mat (John) Charles Martin Smith (Terry), Cindy Williams (Laurie), Candy Clark (Debbie), Mackenzie Phillips (Carol), Wolfman Jack (disc jockey), Bo Hopkins (Joe), Harrison Ford (Bob Falfa), Terence McGovern (Mr. Wolfe), Kathleen Quinlan (Peg), Lynne Marie Stewart (Bobbie)
This film brought together a great cast of future stars. Steve was played by actor, now director, Ron Howard, who maintained his role as the influential, overly confident leader of the group. Richard Dreyfuss plays the confused Curt, trying to determine his comfort with his path in life. He goes through the most exploration throughout the night as he interacts with a diverse selection of townspeople to ultimately find himself getting on the plane the next day. Harrison Ford is the tough out-of-towner who used this role to propel himself to quite a successful career. Carol, played by Mackenzie Phillips, displays the most spunk out of the cast. Her energy helped propel her to a career in sitcoms with One Day at a Time. Cindy Williams had a bit of a career before this film, but her performance propelled her to significant roles in Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. There was also the spotlighting of the infamous Wolfman Jack as the man playing the great lineup of music.
This film by George Lucas was one of his first opportunities to showcase his directing talents beyond his short list of short films. THX was his first true success, but American Graffiti allowed him to showcase his portrayal of a slice of life in the early 1960s. The concept of the film was all about the average night of the teenagers of this small town. Cruising was the activity of choice, as there are multiple scenes with cars pulling up alongside each other to engage in short and sometimes confrontational conversations. There was no much to do back then, so cruising and parking were the activities of choice.
While I can certainly appreciate the focus of this film and definitely enjoy the music, the pace is relatively slow in comparison to life today and there is little character development outside of Curt’s identity crisis.
Dan’s Rating: 2.5/5