Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Dir: Amy Heckerling, 1982. Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston. Comedy.
Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Fast Times At Ridgemont High is The Godfather or the Gone With The Wind of '80s teenage sex comedies. It's bigger and better than its lesser peers including My Tutor, The Last American Virgin, Porky's, Losing It, and a list that goes on and on. Inspired by the success of the wonderful National Lampoon's Animal House as well as the ensemble attitude of American Graffiti, based on a book by Cameron Crowe, with an exceptional cast of then unknowns (including two of their generation's best, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sean Penn), Fast Times At Ridgemont High is an epic study of Southern California teen suburban culture of the early 1980s.

The film really is more than just a teen sex comedy (which doesn't usually mean that sex is actually happening - it is generally more just being wished for - as well as preening and peeking for potential nudity). Besides being very funny there is some dramatic weight to the film and to many of the characters, mostly concerning an abortion. Other than a few teachers at Ridgemont High not many adults (parents) factor into the story (not including the 26-year old stereo salesman who seduces a teenager). This is a teen fantasy of laughs and sex all in a sunny, year-round location. It's the lighter side of the "burning the school down" fantasy of Over The Edge.

Working at the mall, the innocent Stacy Hamilton (Leigh) seeks a boyfriend and sexual experience; her more experienced friend, Linda (Phoebe Cates), leads her through the trenches. On the other side of the mall the sleazy ticket scalper Damone (Robert Romanus) guides his virginal little buddy Mark Ratner (Brian Backer channeling his inner Woody Allen) on a similar quest. More importantly Stacy's older brother Brad (Judge Reinhold), lives in the fast-food rat-race and is trying to save money. He leaves his long time after school job at the burger place for a fish joint and breaks up with his girlfriend. Stacy's classmate, Jeff Spicoli (Penn) is a surfer stoner always at odds with their uptight teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston - inspired casting). In one of the memorable scenes he even has a pizza delivered to the classroom, to munch on while enjoying a little history.

As reported in his book by undercover journalist Cameron Crowe (who was a Rolling Stone reporter as seen in his kinda over-rated film Almost Famous), this was supposed to be the inside dope on what was happening in our school system. Luckily it's the violent-free Valley. This white-bread community makes the '50s knife fights of Blackboard Jungle look like Clockwork Orange. Sex is the most dangerous thing happening here in this just pre-mainstream Aids era. Interestingly, while Penn and Reinhold get the laughs, the heart is with Leigh's Stacy. Before the aforementioned abortion, she loses her virginity in a baseball dugout (to the tunes of Jackson Brown’s "Somebody's Baby"). As she looks up at the graffiti on the wall, it's implied that the profanity written there is all she is going to remember about the event. Underneath the mild exploitation attitude this is a woman's film. This was the directing debut of Amy Heckerling, though she would go on to do the insipid Look Who's Talking films, she would also make the sweet teen girl comedy Clueless.

Obviously Sean Penn's post-Fast Times career would be massive (two Oscars and a lot of love as well as hate). Reinhold would have his moments (Beverly Hills Cop and a great episode of Seinfeld). Leigh would have a number of outstanding performances (Rush, Last Exit To Brooklyn, etc), though perhaps she has never gotten the full due she deserves (strangely no Oscar nominations). Also popping up in the cast is Forest Whitaker as the school's resident black guy and football star, and in smaller parts and extended cameos are Nicholas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, James Russo, Martin Brest (director of Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run) and Lana Clarkson (murder victim of psychotic genius record producer Phil Spector).

Fast Times has countless quotable lines and memorable moments, most famously when Reinhold gets caught masturbating, both because it’s such an awkward, embarrassing moment and because Phoebe Cates' topless scene was engraved in a generation of teenage boy’s minds. Unlike Caddyshack, a very funny cousin to Fast Times, where the dramatic moments (also concerning pregnancy) usually get fast-forwarded over, here the pathos are earned and entertaining. Even Spicoli and Mr. Hand finally coming to a resolution has some emotional depth to it, but that’s not to say that this is the overly sentimental sludge of a sappy John Hughes teen flick. It’s much cooler and even edgier than those films. Whether as a time capsule or as a teen fantasy Fast Times At Ridgemont High stands the test of time and is still a party worth visiting.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Dec 15, 2010 4:16pm
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