One Night Coming of Age: American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused and Superbad

GeorgeCant94 By GeorgeCant94, 24th Jun 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Film & TV>Comedy

Three movies of striking cultural significance with reference to the time they were made are American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused and Superbad. All take as their premise a kind of one night coming of age, a last hurrah, a final goodbye for friends about to head off into their own direction in the world, and the way they spend that night is very revealing to the time they are in.

A New Hope

It is often forgotten that George Lucas, the man most famous for creating the sci-fi mega series Star Wars, actually began with what is in my opinion his greatest achievement- American Graffiti. A humble coming of age movie set against the backdrop of 1962 California, it follows a group of kids on their night before heading off to college and surrendering to adult life. They band together and are determined to have a good time. There is excitement, confusion, frustration, but most of all their is a carefree spirit that invades the atmosphere and is so wonderfully symbolic of the carefree optimism of the baby boomer generation.

Ron Howard is perfect as the hotshot kid Steve, who, struggling to reconcile the commitment of having a long term relationship and going off to college, suggests the idea of being allowed to temporarily date other people to 'strengthen' their love. It is a compellingly desperate show of teen angst but done in a uniquely innocent way. Steve is the pioneer, the maverick, the one who always talks of escaping his 'turkey town', but the way he glides girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams) gives a unique innocence to such a dimwitted and foolhardy suggestion. He is the one in the group who thinks he is better than all of this, can't wait to get out into the world and explore. It is a genuine sense of youthful optimism not tied down to any modern day burdens- exploring for the sake of exploring, not just as a way to survive. There is a truthful belief that there could be anything out there, and, without internet and 24/7 global media coverage, for Steve and all those booming in early 1960s America, the world was there to be discovered. And we feel that excitement with them.

Other beautifully rendered characters include Richard Dreyfuss' Curt, at moments the antithesis to Steve in his indecisiveness about leaving, at others the hopelessly optimistic romantic chasing love across the town. There is Paul le Mat's John, a cocky boy racer trapped by his own failures, his own self-interest and narrow view of those around him. Charles Martin Smith also shines as the nerdy Terry who, like those around him, dreams of adventure and intrigue on this last special night.

Dazed and Confused

The next in line of those great one night wonders would be Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater's representation of the last day of school for those growing up in the 1970s. This was certainly a movie distinctly more about the culture of the time than well drawn characters. Classmate rivalries, an 'old teaching the new' aesthetic, peer pressure, drugs and Matthew McConaughey's slick continuation of Paul le Mat's John from American Graffiti combine to produce an honest portrayal of the struggles of expectations in an increasingly competitive world, along with the excitement and freedom of being released for the summer.

Where Dazed and Confused really triumphs is showing the increasing confusion of a youth bound by new challenges, a new culture where they are expected to mature much quicker, while at the same time respect and honor the integrity of those slightly older than them who are their role models. We see the good side of this with McConaughey and the bad side with Ben Affleck, a raging older student keen on inflicting physical pain to the younger kids because that is their tradition. What is evident here is the move from American Graffiti's innocence, to a state of confusion and apathy in Dazed and Confused. While American Graffiti's characters screamed optimism and hope for the future, Dazed and Confused's characters are content to just keep their head above water, searching for a good time while at the same time tempering any expectations for the future in an increasingly apathetic, drug culture. Dazed and Confused sees the moment as now, what happens in the future we will have to accept. American Graffiti proudly proclaims an exciting search for the perfect moment in the now, while keeping the dreams high and alive for the future in a time of buoyant optimism.

The Modern Experience

The most notable of modern movies to explore the one night movie is Superbad, directed by Greg Mottola and written by comedy team Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg- whose first names were also given to Michael Cera and Jonah Hill's protagonists. Taking Dazed and Confused idea of apathy and premature maturity further and narrowing the scope, Superbad is rude, crude, and primarily reliant on gross out sex gags. It is, of course, a sign of the times. These kids seemingly look no further into their journey in life than getting into the pants of the girls in their school before they all head off to college. The innocence of American Graffiti is completely lost. The search for adventure still residing in Dazed and Confused (cruising round the town, looking for life and love) dwindles. Their only goal is to get to a party with drunk girls. And it is sad that our generation, our time has embedded this into the culture of our youth. In place of the older boys still trying to live their youth are Seth Rogen and Bill Hader's incompetent cops, who follow in the footsteps of players Paul le Mat in American Graffiti and McConaughey in Dazed and Confused. Mclovin, in what is a strikingly similar physical presentation to Graffiti's Terry, is the nerd trying to kick it with the cool kids on their final night. It has all the elements of of the previous two, but with each installment, as we look through the annals of cinema history in this very particular brand of coming of age movie, we see a decrease in an age of innocence and hope for the future, and an increase in cultural pressure of those protagonists who carry the story of youngsters on the verge of coming into the world.

Blazing a Trail

American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused and Superbad all allow us to see what can be both the amazing ecstasy of a step into freedom and the stark realization that adulthood is coming fast. Each movie has something so poignantly true of the coming of age experience for whichever generation views them. Yet they are so brutally representative of their time. Graffiti, with its post war optimism and innocent rockabilly flavor showed optimism, Confused mixed social pressures and increasing apathy to blend together what was a confusing time for those growing up in the 1970s, and Superbad wants nothing more than parties and girls, negating all the innocence left clinging to our culture from the American Graffiti era. They helped launch the careers of Harrison Ford, Matthew McConaughey and Jonah Hill. They helped us see our growing up experience with all the drama and angst we had up on the big screen. They helped define their generation. And they did it all in one night.


1960S Cinema, 1970S Cinema, 2000S Cinema, Best Movies, Comedy, Coming Home, Coming In Movies, Coming Of Age, Coming Of Age In The 1960S, Coming To America, Coming To An End, Coming To Terms, Coming Together, Favorite Movies, George Lucas, Hollywood, Movie Characters, Movie Culture, Movie Life, Movie Reviews, Movie Stars, Movies, Movies Of Their Times, New Movies, Old Movies, One Night Movie, Richard Linklater

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author avatar GeorgeCant94
Hailing from the UK but studying in America, I am a soccer player with a passion for travel, adventure, and the diversity and delicate balance that makes people so unique and richly interesting.

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