Nostalgic but unsentimental, American Graffiti is a seminal coming-of-age film that speaks to anyone who has ever been a teenager. George Lucas's second feature film, it recalled a simpler time while reminding audiences that things weren't really that simple. An elegy for childhood freedom, it captured yearning conflict without exploiting it and refused to exchange its tough-love treatment of its subjects for a more breezy, simplistic rendering. The film was a surprise success (much like Lucas' next film, Star Wars) that set the tone for subsequent youth-oriented movies. It also sparked a craze for nostalgia films set in the pre-Vietnam era, an interesting detail given that, while certainly nostalgic, American Graffiti avoided the sort of sappy, one-dimensional pitfalls encountered by its numerous imitators. A classic by any standards, its message remains unforced and universal, making the film identifiable with but not defined by one particular era.
by Rebecca Flint Marx review