- Movie Rating -

More American Graffiti (1979)

| August 3, 1979

I so wanted to like More American Graffiti.  Most sequels are just lazy reruns, but I found this one a little more ambitious, and yet I find myself admiring the attempt more than actually enjoying the movie. 

Of course, any sequel to American Graffiti is basically unnecessary, so I kind of expected a retread, another night in Modesto California with the same kids a year later seeing how their lives turned out and watching them get into another round of post-twilight shenanigans.

And yet, director Bill Norton tries for something different.  Instead of setting the events over one night, he tries for an updating of the events of their lives on New Year’s Eve over the course of four years – 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1967.  That way we get a scope of the changes of the generation.  The four years are sectioned off into an anthology of smaller stories that sometimes reveal events that happened in a previous story, drop information about future events and then turn back a year or two to show us how those events occurred.

That’s a bold structure, and since the kids of American Graffiti have taken different paths in life, it makes sense to see them in different places.  In 1964, John Milner (Paul Le Mat) is a self-involved drag racer whose attention to his craft is turned when he meets a beautiful Icelandic girl (Anna Bjorn) who doesn’t speak English.  In 1965, Terry the Toad (Charles Martin Smith) is serving in Vietnam and has become so disillusioned by the war that he tries several very clumsy attempts to get himself injured in order to be sent stateside.  In 1966, Debbie Dunham (Candy Clark) has become part of the counter-culture movement, and spends a great amount of energy trying to get her pothead boyfriend to marry her.  In 1967, Steve and Laurie are married with two kids but their union is crumbling due to his refusal to let her go out and get a job.

As I say, the structure of these events are more interesting than what actually happens.  The point is to show the crumbling disillusion of these people as the decade wears on, of how their varying destinies are stunted by the wider changes and the culture.  I wouldn’t have a problem with this if I found the individual stories involving, but largely this time I found the characters shallow and sometimes even off-putting.  They’re angry and uptight, which is understandable given the times they are living in, but they are angry in a way that pushes us away.

The only one of these stories that I found involving was the section in Vietnam.  Norton shoots the scenes in grainy stock footage, much like news footage, and we get involved in Terry’s story which moves effectively from comic mishaps to serious pain and disillusion (there’s a death in the movie that I didn’t expect).

Plus, in the future-tense structure, the movie portends at least two deaths and it is a gimmick that I found cheap and kind of ghoulish.  We’re told that these two characters will be dead by the end of the film and that puts us on edge, not in an engaging way but in the way of a thriller.  It really doesn’t work.

As I say, I wanted to like this movie more than I did.  I admire the attempt to try something different.  I admire what’s here but ultimately, I lost interest.  It’s a bold idea that needed to be even bolder in its storytelling.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized