Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

fast times at ridgemont high IMDb

Maybe it’s because I’m watching this for the first time in 2014, but I don’t get why Fast Times at Ridgemont High has such a cult following. It’s one of those loosely structured high school coming-of-age tales in the vein of American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused  (which I never really got, either). There’s really no overarching story, just a few subplots involving teenagers at the same school. If it weren’t for Sean Penn’s performance as Jeff Spicoli and Pheobe Cates taking her top off I feel like this movie would hardly be remembered.

For what it is, Fast Times is fun to watch. Spicoli certainly provides most of the laughs, but there are plenty of other humorous scenes and exchanges that are probably overlooked because of Penn. Judge Reinhold masturbating in a bathroom and Cates casually  giving Jennifer Jason Leigh sort of terrible sex advice stand out, and clearly inspired scenes in later teen comedies. This is also a fun movie for spotting future stars: Nicholas Cage (credited for the only time as Nicholas Coppola) appears as a teen working at a fast food restaurant, Forest Whitaker is a star football player, and Anthony Edwards plays a stoner. Funny to think that these three are mere bit players in this movie, but are now more famous and accomplished than most of the primary cast.

Despite having a very loose story, this film deals with some teen issues in a very real and poignant way. I particularly enjoyed the frankness with which abortion is discussed. Having watched Dirty Dancing not long ago, it was nice to see a movie that discusses the topic without resorting to the girl in question needing to suffer physical side effects afterward. In fact, teenage sexuality is treated well here. Both serious scenes and those played for laughs still ring true 30 years later. As much as American Pie is beloved by my generation, I doubt many of those scenes will be as relatable to future kids as Fast Times is today.

I’m not entirely sure I would watch this again. It’s certainly fun, but the lack of story puts me off. Still, if you’re looking for a slice of 1980s Southern California, this is your flick. The scenes shot at the Sherman Oaks Galleria are especially nostalgic given the fact that American teens are no longer hitting the mall in droves. The setting may be less relatable, but the characters still are.

Rating: C+

I had never actually seen this film all the way through. I bought it years ago, but never actually watched it for some reason. I’m not sure this film deserves the cult status it has achieved, the storyline is quite weak, although there are plenty of memorable characters that I found really entertaining. First among them was Sean Penn’s terrific performance as stoner and class clown, Jeff Spicoli. He is definitely the highlight of the film for me, his laid back stoner dude is very funny.

I try to put the plot of the films we watch into my reviews, even if it is just a brief description, but it is really difficult to do for Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The story follows a group of high school kids through a year of school. There is no overarching plot that the movie follows, it just randomly follows this group of teenagers during their day to day activities. There is a sub plot involving Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her quest to get laid, and also one involving her brother, Brad (Judge Reinhold) and his plans for after high school. The film follows several different characters at some stage, then Spicoli turns up every now and then for laughs, but there really isn’t a story here, at least not the type I’m used to.

That being said, this film is quite funny. The lack of a plot does not take away from the fact that this film is quite funny. Stacy’s story would have been quite controversial I imagine when this film was first released. It was in the early 80s and I doubt there had been many movie plots that showed a woman seeking out a sexual partner. I could definitely see this film not being that well received by parent groups in 1982. I found her to be an accurate portrayal of how women behave, but times have changed since Ridgemont High came out.

Of course I can’t mention this film without talking about Phoebe Cates’s infamous topless scene. She plays Stacy’s older best friend and during one of Brad’s dream sequences, he imagines her stripping for him while he jerks off. It is a crude scene, but does not feel out of place in a film about horny teenagers. Outside of Spicoli, the image of a topless Cates is the one I most closely associate with this film. Cates is lovely, although I much prefer her work in the Gremlins films and Drop Dead Fred. It is a shame she stopped working after marrying Kevin Kline because I think she had a lot of talent. She was a very funny actress and there is not enough of them in Hollywood.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High makes up for a non-existent plot by creating relatable high school characters that are very funny. Director Amy Heckerling has done better (see Clueless), as has writer Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire), but this is still a solid high school film, even if it doesn’t quite deserve the cult status it has attained over the years.

Rating: C+

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