#17) Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

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#17) Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

OR “My SoCal-ed Life”

Directed by Amy Heckerling

Written by Cameron Crowe. Based on his book.

Class of 2005

Here’s the Trailer. It’s awesome, totally awesome.

The Plot: A year in the life of the student body of Southern California’s Ridgemont High School. Among those chronicled are blossoming sophomore Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), her mentoring senior Linda (Phoebe Cates), cool kid Damone (Robert Romanus), his protégé “Rat” (Brian Backer), Stacy’s older brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) and stoner extraordinaire Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn).

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “[a]mong the best teen comedies” and cites Penn’s performance.

But Does It Really?: Perhaps I am dead inside, or just not a member of this particular cult, but I did not drink the “Fast Times” Kool-Aid. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a well-made, funny slice-of-life teen movie, and I liked it fine. It just never fired on all cylinders for me. It works for me as an ‘80s time capsule, not just for its culture, but also for the “before they were famous” performances by pretty much everyone (more on that later). And yes, Sean Penn as the ultimate surfer dude is a highlight, especially after seeing all the dramatic work he has done since this film. To those who are disappointed in me not embracing this cult classic, all I can say is “Get off my case, motherfucker!

Shout Outs: During the film’s infamous pool scene, Ramone hums a bit of the “Jaws” theme.

Everybody Gets One: First off, shout out to casting director Don Phillips, because pretty much everyone in this film went on to bigger and better things. In addition to Penn, “Fast Times” features two more future Best Actor Oscar winners (Nicolas Cage and Forest Whitaker) and one future Best Supporting Actress nominee (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Plus this film includes early performances by Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards. Phillips would go on to cast another high-school cult film; 1993’s “Dazed and Confused”.

Wow, That’s Dated: From the first frame and the first note of “We Got the Beat”, this film is pure ‘80s. From comparing a heart-throb to Richard Gere, to scanning credit cards by hand, to solving a Rubik’s Cube, this film – like so many from this decade – is a reflection of its time.

Seriously, Oscars?: In a year that included “Gandhi”, “The Verdict” and “Das Boot”, there was no room for a film in which Jennifer Jason Leigh fellates a carrot. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” did earn one nomination from the Writers Guild in the now defunct category “Best Adapted Comedy”. It lost to “Victor/Victoria”, and you could not get two more drastically different comedies in the same category.

Other notes

  • A word on Nicolas Cage; if you blink you’ll miss him because he’s really not in this movie. He has no lines that I noticed and his only defining character moment is putting an “I Am A Homo” sign on someone’s back. Oh and apparently during filming he wouldn’t shut up about his famous uncle.
  • Did Judge Reinhold always look 40?
  • This film brings up the excellent point that Disco sucks.
  • Shout-out to Ray Walston as Mr. Hand. Walston was delighted at this film’s success because it meant that people would stop calling him “Martian”. We will see him again on this Registry.
  • Due to its iconic stature I am required to mention that this film has a scene where Phoebe Cates takes her top off near a pool. Now move along you pervs.
  • I am convinced that none of these kids have parents. The woman who says goodnight to Stacy at the beginning is just a friendly prowler as far as I’m concerned.
  • After hooking up with Damone, Stacy discusses it with Linda while slicing a large pepperoni. Real subtle.
  • That woman laughing at Brad’s Captain Hook outfit should not cast the first stone. What the hell is that thing?
  • At one point Linda complains that their town “can’t even get cable”, which is fine because have you tried watching this film on TV?
  • For some reason, comedian Taylor Negron (who plays the pizza delivery guy) is credited as himself. Huh?

Legacy

  • Every teen comedy since 1982.
  • The short-lived 1986 CBS TV series. When will we learn not to sanitize raunchy comedies for network television?
  • Amy Heckerling’s ‘90s spiritual sequel “Clueless”.
  • Cameron Crowe’s decision that what he really wants to do is direct.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if Spicoli’s brief take on Thomas Jefferson led to “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”.
  • Mock Trial with J. Reinhold.
  • This is the film that put Vans on the map, so “Fast Times” is technically responsible for “Damn, Daniel”.

Listen to This: Amazingly, despite having one of filmdom’s best soundtracks, no artist from this film is in the National Recording Registry yet. For shame.

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