TBT Review: “More American Graffiti”
I wanted to do something New Years related but surprisingly there aren’t all that many New Years Eve movies. I don’t know I just assumed there’d probably be more. Then it all clicked, one perfect movie. Something good, something decent, something pure … nah not that movie. How about the sequel to “American Graffiti” … “More American Graffiti!”
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 3
If you haven’t seen the original George Lucas classic, “American Graffiti” it’s about a group of 4 friends on the night before 2 of them leave for college. They each have their own wacky adventures while learning something about themselves. Even though it’s a movie set in 1962 and very much about the nostalgia of that period in time, it is still a film that young people can identify with. It’s funny the biggest complaint against George Lucas nowadays is how his characters feel very flat and unable to get attached to yet one of the biggest strengths of “American Graffiti” is how natural and real it feels. If it’s not clear, I really enjoy it.
This film picks up a few years later, on New Years Eve from 1964 to 1967. So instead of it all being one night, each character is going through their adventure in a different year. Following from the end credits of the last film, Ron Howard and Cindy Williams’ characters are married and living right in the middle of the women’s liberation movement. Toad (Charlie Martin Smith) is fighting in Vietnam and John Milner (Paul Le Mat) is competing in a big race. Since Richard Dreyfuss did not return, the fourth storyline is given to Debbie (Candy Clark) as a hippie who’s also trying to make a music career while also dealing with a loser boyfriend and experimenting wildly with drugs. While the first film was 4 separate stories, they were all tied together by the theme of young adults being done with school and dealing with the question, “where does my life go from here?” “Am I going to be the same person or am I going to make a meaningful change?” Sure some are less connected to that theme than others but they all still are. Here I think they just wanted to reference the iconic 60s type events but have no real theme to tie it together or to give it any meaning other than there’s one aspect of the 60s and there’s another, etc.
As stated before Richard Dreyfuss is the only major actor from the original not to return but other than that we even got minor characters back for this one. Even Harrison Ford returns for a cameo. While I may not care for some of the characters or where they end up, the actors all slip perfectly back into the roles and make the film somewhat enjoyable. Instead of George Lucas directing and Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz writing the script, we have Bill L. Norton doing both. The directing and cinematography are nothing special although they do try. Each of the 4 stories is shot differently to try to help you remember which year it is. Also like the first film, the 4 stories intercut with each other and for the most part it is edited well enough that I never got confused. It is a film that tries, I’ll give it that.
Entertainment Value – 2.5
With a film like this the only way to review it is to discuss each of the stories and decide how they stack up with each other. The good ones, John Milner racing, feels like it could have come from the first film and even has a nice spin on his story in the original. In the original John gets stuck with a young teenage girl in his car who is constantly talking much to his annoyance. Here it’s a foreign woman who doesn’t speak English, so in an interesting reversal John has to be the one continuing the conversation. Toad in Vietnam also works well. Like in the last one, his story is mostly comic relief even in the war setting. We even learn, at unlike what the end credits told us, in the original he didn’t go missing in action, he faked his own death to move to Europe. While it’s nice to see the funniest character survive and get a “happy” ending, it dilutes some of the power of the first film’s ending to find this out. However I will admit it is really nice to see the very end with everyone (in different years) singing “Auld Lang Syne” and it did allow me to leave this movie on a little bit of high note.
And to the bad. While it is nice to see Debbie getting her own story it is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen. Oh nothing overt or anything but for me personally I find it depressing. Debbie was such a likable character in the first film and her and Toad’s relationship is so cute. Seeing her end up as wandering hippie is just beyond sad. Then there’s Ron Howard and Cindy Williams’ part. Their story was the one aspect of the original that I didn’t like. Fun Fact, while Huyck and Katz wrote the screenplay they were working off of George Lucas’ notes. However for that storyline he didn’t know what to do so he let them write most of it. I could go into a whole other article explaining why I hate that part but for simplicity sakes I’ll just say I think they are awful characters (hence why I didn’t bother looking up their names). Ron Howard talks a big game but is really a scared jerk and Cindy Williams is just a spoiled brat who tries to force Howard not to go to college. Even the actress herself said that was a crappy thing for her character to do. I don’t care about this couple or even want to see them end up together. All of the evidence suggests they’d be better people if they moved on. Their section in “More American Graffiti” seems to bare that assumption out. They’re still constantly fighting, both being idiots, and I just want to see finally divorce! I can’t be sure but it feels like their section is longer this time around too. So half of the stories are good and half are bad but here’s the thing, the two good ones are just good, not great. The bad ones are worse and take up half of the running time. So even if I find a stretch of film that I am enjoying I know it’s not going to be long before we cut back over to a story that either depresses or infuriates me. Talk about pick your poison…and the other two drinks are only half of an antidote.
Rewatchability – 1
I’ve seen it once out of curiosity and have no intention on seeing it again. There are some moments I could re-watch if I had to but even those are only pale imitations of the first film.
Even for completionists, there is little point to seeing this movie. There are some interesting ideas that show this COULD have possibly worked but it never truly went far enough. The film takes the things that didn't work in the original and multiplies them while worsening other parts. See the original, it's a classic! Skip this one unless you're like me and always feel compelled to see obscure sequels. I give it 2 stars out of 5.