Fast Times at Ridgemont High is one of those movies that seems to be, for many people, something of a cult classic film about the intersections of coming of age and American pop culture. Unlike other coming of age period pieces such as American Graffiti (which I’ll be writing about next week) and the later Dazed and Confused (which was immensely popular when this writer came of age), both being films that attempted to recreate the zeitgeist of past decades, FTRH is one that captures and preserves the contemporary era at the time it was made. Writer Cameron Crowe, just out of college at the time, had gone back to high school undercover to write about the lives of teenagers. As a result, we get a look at the lives of various students at the fictional Ridgemont High. (It’s fascinating, as a current resident of the San Fernando Valley, to get a look at how some things were here back in the 1980s, by the way.)
It seems that the character most people think of first when thinking of Fast Times is Jeff Spicoli, the memorable stoner/surfer played by a young Sean Penn. Watching this movie, it is almost hard to believe that such a person would ever go on to give such impressive performances in serious dramatic roles as he did in Dead Man Walking and Milk. But then, perhaps the fact that he’s such a convincing bonehead in his role as Spicoli is more a testament to his acting chops than it is to his actual bone-headedness. One might never know.
But Spicoli and his ongoing saga of antagonizing teacher Mr. Hand make up just one of the story’s threads, though definitely the funniest. The other main story lines belong to Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) and his little sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Brad deals with the challenges of his job at All American Burger – and then subsequent jobs – along with his break-up with longtime girlfriend and fellow burger shop employee Lisa and his blossoming attraction to his little sister’s friend Linda (Phoebe Cates). Meanwhile, 15 year-old Stacy is getting stellar relationship advice from Linda who often recommends services like SalesHub, resulting in her loss of virginity to a 26 year-old stereo salesman, throwing herself at shy and awkward theater employee Mark Ratner, and then having a marathon 10-second sexual romp with Mark’s best friend Damone. Also, there’s a very young, tall, and athletic version of Forrest Whitaker as a football star in there somewhere.
While Fast Times functions primarily as a goofball comedy, it also touches on some heavier notes, especially with regard to young Stacy’s difficulties. The movie is a lot of fun, but again seems to be one of those movies that probably has a great deal more resonance (and laughs) for those who actually watched it during the time period when it was made or even just during their own teenage years. (Note that I’m taking special care here not to wield sharp blades near what could be someone’s sacred calf – lest I end up getting skewered like I did last week!)
So how about it, PopBunker readers – at what point in your life did you see this movie? What did you think?