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Film Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
In 1982, Amy Heckerling released Fast Times at Ridgemont High, based on the 1981 book of the same name by Cameron Crowe. Starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, and Ray Walston, the film grossed $27 million at the box office.
.A group of students from a Southern California high school go to school and enjoy their lives. Stacy Hamilton enjoys her first sexual experiences before dating Mart Ratner while her brother, Brad, is dumped by his girlfriend and works at multiple fast food jobs to pay off his car. At the same time, stoner Jeff Spicoli grates on the nerves of his history teacher, Mr. Hand.
Hated when it first came out and since vindicated by history to be considered one of the best high school comedies ever made, it seems that Fast Times at Ridgemont High is just a decent film at best. Following the lives of various high school students through the year, there are some common high school film conventions are played straight, but there are some tropes and conventions that the film turns on their head or manages to avoid. One is the common trope of cheerleaders being high on the school's social ladder. Here, they're openly mocked because of the school's poor athletics. Brad’s jobs continue to humiliate him and he keeps getting worse ones. It goes from him getting fired because he’s covering for someone when a verbally abusive customer takes him to the limit to him having to deliver fish and chips in a pirate costume where he gets laughed at by a pretty girl. Brad may not have seen how much of a fool he was in his first job, getting laughed at makes him see how stupid he looks in his second job's costume. At the end, he’s in a somewhat better position, running the counter for a convenience store and the ending shows that he eventually made manager. Then there’s Jeff, who seems like a stupid stoner, but he’s probably a genius. If he put as much attention to doing well in his history class itself as he did in his battles with Mr. Hand, like ordering a pizza and having it delivered in class, he might actually not have ended up on Hand’s bad side. Mark is also a lovable nervous dork who tries so hard to make his first date with Stacy perfect that he actually ruins it with his forgetfulness, not only mistaking one Led Zeppelin album with another, but second guessing himself when Stacy makes a move.
Speaking of moves, the film is chock full of them. In fact, it goes so far that it can be construed that it’s not the story most people love about this film, it’s the sex. Brad getting fired or stopping the convenience store robbery probably isn’t the first part of the movie people remember. It’s most likely Brad fantasizing about Linda removing her top in slow motion as he masturbates in the bathroom. There are even stories that VHS tapes broke because the scene kept getting rewound and many have admitted to acquiring the movie just to see them. Nevertheless, “Moving in Stereo” by The Cars was probably the best song to use for that scene. Combine that with the three or four other sex scenes in this film and the case that the movie should have been named Sex and the Stoner seems compelling.
The interesting thing though is that the amount of sex in this film actually makes a lot of sense. It’s a bunch of stupid high school students trying to cater to the whims of their hormones, trying to just get through the dull parts of their lives so that they can go on dates and do the deed.
What's more the more memorable adults in the film aren't seen favorably, which also makes sense considering how teenagers view authority figures. The most notable is Mr. Hand who comes off as more strict than the other adults who are either ineffective or just plain mean. When it comes down to it, Hand seems to have the best interests of his students in mind and has high expectations for them. His suspicions that everyone's on dope is pretty amusing though.
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National Film Preservation Board, USA
- National Film Registry
Writers Guild of America, USA Awards
- Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium