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Tell someone that a movie is about America and, if he has any sense, he'll head for the exit. But I don't know how else to define the subject of Jonathan Demme's funny, stirring film: it moves from mystical apprehension of American values to astute satire, from warm evocations of middle-class institutions to a somber appreciation of their limitations, using a visual style that is at once lyrically radiant and naggingly honest. And, as Demme's casual, episodic narrative unwinds, following the fortunes of gas-station attendant Melvin Dummar after his brush with the scruffy legend of Howard Hughes, it all looks so easy, unforced, and simple—which is one definition of great moviemaking. With Paul Le Mat, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen, and Pamela Reed; photographed by Tak Fujimoto (1980).

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