Director: Amy Heckerling
Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston
Screenplay: Cameron Crowe
90 mins. Rated R.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High had an interesting genesis. Screenwriter Cameron Crowe (TV’s Roadies, Almost Famous) actually went undercover at a high school for some time and fictionalized a book out of it. He later adapted that book to be the film we are discussing today. It goes further than that, too. There’s even a Fast Times television series that I’m trying to get my hands on for my own twisted curiosity. The show is apparently terrible but I have my reasons…
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is one of the earliest slice-of-life films in the high school setting, or at least one of the most well-known and reputable ones. There are several characters intersecting at its core, most memorably Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn, Mystic River, The Angry Birds Movie), a stoner who finds himself at odds with teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston, TV’s My Favorite Martian, The Sting), who expects the highest respect from his students. Then there’s the Hamiltons, brother Brad (Judge Reinhold, Beverly Hills Cop, Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts) and sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight, Morgan). Brad is about to finish his high school career as a blip and he just can’t seem to get a win. Stacy is exploring her sexuality with anyone she comes across but can’t seem to understand the different between sex and love. She is pined for by Mark “Rat” Ratner (Brian Backer, The Burning, Loser) who gets all his romantic advice from the slimy Mark Damone (Robert Romanus, The Runaways, American Pie presents The Book of Love) who may just be getting a kick out of watching Rat fail.
Fast Times is an engaging and funny take on high school relationships of all kinds, and director Amy Heckerling (Look Who’s Talking, Vamps) spends equal time developing strong characters and seemingly important moments in the fleeting high school experience.
The strongest and most enjoyable performance is Sean Penn’s Spicoli. Penn is virtually unrecognizable in his portrayal of the over-the-top stoner but there is an energy to his performance that made me remember all the people I knew in my adolescence that were Spicolis in their own way. He isn’t out of place, but he is the epitome of all the youths who didn’t think out their plans after high school, the ones that stayed in the moment, in the now, for better or worse.
Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Stacy Hamilton is another relatable character in that, in high school, everyone was looking to get laid as a personal status symbol. It’s weird to think of it that way but so many do, and this conceit seems to feed into itself as more high school comedies surfaced over the years. In her comparisons with friend Linda (Phoebe Cates, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Drop Dead Fred), Stacy is seen in a sad light, rarely rising to the level of self-acceptance she so wants.
If there’s a faulty character in the bunch, it’s Brad, who shares a number of great moments in the film (and yes, I’m including the scene with Phoebe Cates Moving in Stereo), but overall, his character just doesn’t really go anywhere. I feel like I get what the attempt was, but it wasn’t entirely successful.
Thankfully, the strong writing of Cameron Crowe really impacts this film and peppers quotable and memorable moments throughout that have allowed Fast Times to endure the test of time. I feel like this is a film about high school that stays with you long after high school, and it also feels accessible even for youths that didn’t grow up in the era of its release. It’s a film that feels good to watch, and it’s one that says that yes, we’ve all been there. It has fun with its loose premise and is completely re-watchable. If you haven’t seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High, now is the time to give it a go.
-Kyle A. Goethe
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