American Graffiti; tragicomedy, USA, 1973; D: George Lucas, S: Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Martin Smith, Paul Le Mat, Ron Howard, Candy Clark, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips, Harrison Ford
One night in California, '62. Four stories revolving around teenagers: Curt is wondering if he should accept a scholarship which would bring him to a college far away from his friends and family. He is also fascinated by a beautiful woman he saw in a car and tours the streets hoping to find her this last night before departure, but just stumbles upon a gang and meets a DJ called Wolfman...Steve and his girlfriend Lauren have a harsh argument...Steve borrows his car to the unpopular Terry, nicknamed "Toad", who is overwhelmed when an attractive blond, Debbie, accepts to have a ride with him...Driving in a yellow car, Milner ends up with the childish, but charming Carol. After a race which ends in a destroyed car, the friends say goodbye to Curt.
Nominated for five Oscars (including best picture and director), winner of a Golden Globe (best motion picture - musical or comedy) and a New York Film Critics Circle Award (best screenplay), "American Graffiti" is one of the better examples of gentle-nostalgic teenage comedies with a realistic anchor to their misadventures and still seems as fresh as during its original release. However, the movie is by far not perfect: out of the four stories set during one last night before the friends will separate, one is entirely uninteresting (involving Steve (Ron Howard) and his relationship with Lauren) and one is good mostly thanks to the moving performance by Richard Dreyfuss (as Curt, who is about to leave the town for college), but de-tours to an unnecessary subplot involving a gang called "Pharaohs".
The movie gains the biggest impression from the two other excellent stories that show a fine sense for slice-of-life. The one involving Milner, stuck with a childish teenage girl, Carol who pretends to be an adult, has incredible charm and wacky jokes (a random cars drives next to his and one girl in it gives him the "prize" for it, throwing a water balloon that splashes right into Carol's face; Harrison Ford's character humorously addressing Milner's "urine colored" car, saying how he feels "embarrassed just by driving near him") whereas the fourth one is a blast, showing a "nerdy", hapless Terry who cannot believe his luck when he brings the attractive blond Debbie for a ride. If she were just a stereotypical girl in search for a 'sugar daddy', she wouldn't have been so special, but the fact that she in the end admits that she liked spending the night with him, despite an unfavorable conclusion, makes Candy Clark's performance one of the few examples of an attractive woman having a crush on a "nerd", for which she was rightfully nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actress. Despite omissions, it seems as if George Lucas had a much better sense for true characters and emotions in realistic than in SF stories.