All American Kids



Something like 7 or 8 years ago I sat in my dad’s living room with an old friend of my parents’ and American Graffiti came on the TV. I casually mentioned that I hadn’t seen it and was strongly urged to get on the stick immediately! This was the story of Uncle D’s teen years and I was missing a crucial piece of history by not having watched this film. Eight years is sort of immediately, isn’t it? It’s immediacy-adjacent at least. No? Well, OK, you’re probably right.

I finally watched American Graffiti last night. It’s directed by George Lucas (his second such endeavor) and when the powers that be told him he needed a big name attached he asked if perhaps Francis Ford Coppola as producer would fill the blank. Given that The Godfather was coming out they conceded that it would do in a pinch. Casting went on forever and eventually a movie was born. A movie that stars, among others, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips, Richard Dreyfuss, Suzanne Somers, and Harrison Ford.

It’s a small town movie, a little coming of age story, an ensemble flick, if you will. You’ve seen it a hundred times, maybe more, so why would you watch this old film? First you’d watch it because of that cast I mentioned. Ever seen Ron Howard play an asshole? Want to? American Graffiti can help! Then you’d watch it because if Coppola and Lucas thought it was worth doing then it’s likely worth your time. Furthermore you’d watch it because there’s a high probability that all those small town, coming of age ensemble flicks you’ve already seen owe a debt of gratitude to American Graffiti.

The story doesn’t delve deeply into any one issue and it isn’t riddled with high velocity crises the way a movie like, say, Adventureland, is today. (Did I tell you to see Adventureland? I should have if I didn’t. Go on, see it!) The shape and form of the film are that of its subject. If you’ve ever spent time wandering the streets of a small town in the middle of the night not knowing where you need to go or how to get there despite knowing every square half inch of the place then you’ll recognize this place and these people and, I think, you’ll immediately (in far less than 8 years anyway) drop into this world and enjoy your stay. If you love music from 1964 (or have a soft spot for Wolfman Jack) you’ll be in seventh heaven. Lucas wrote a draft of the script with a stack of his sister’s old 45s by his side, building each scene to the music that inspired it. If you remember what it was like to be a teenager and you worry about teenagers today you’ll be both comforted and terrified by this wholesome group of numb nuts. Finally, if you’re an actor, or ever hoped to be one, watch the film, then watch the special features and I will be flat out amazed if you don’t wet yourself in an embarrassing fashion over what a glorious opportunity this movie was for these young actors and how well they took advantage of it. I love movies but, as an actor, am drawn to theatre. This movie, these stories, that process made me want to run right out and act in movies now and forever.

I wasn’t riveted by American Graffiti. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch. I did some dishes and a crossword and ate some pudding while I watched and I don’t feel bad about it. It touched me, though. Even writing about it makes me feel a pang of regret that I won’t be going home to watch bits over again. Not to mention the pang of regret over bygone walks through a small town making bad choices and being lucky enough to live to tell the tale.


5 Responses to “All American Kids”

  1. mabnyc Says:

    Believe it or not, I’ve never seen this either. Although I lived through its 80s equivalent, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, which also spawned a slew of young actors’ careers. (More accurately, in more ways than one, “Freaks and Geeks”, which, like “AG”, had the advantage [?] of a bit of distance from the time in which it was set.) But now I’m inspired to put it in the queue and fill in that gap in my pop culture dance card.

  2. Gertrude Says:

    Seen it decades ago. Loved it! And Wolfman Jack… big soft spot! He is available in reruns on some channels of XM radio don’t ya know?
    Glad you enjoyed it. I also heart Richard D. Big time!

  3. zeldapinwheel Says:

    I’ve never seen it. But will netflix soon…i love the special features on the dvd’s! I’m totally with MAB up there too…yes, our 80’s spawns…Freaks and Geeks I STILL heart and look at ALL OF THOSE actors now. woof.

  4. Mrs. Chili Says:

    This is one of the “classics” that I’ve never seen.

  5. nhfalcon Says:

    I, too, have never seen this movie.

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