Starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston, Scott Thomson, Vincent Schiavelli, Amanda Wyss, D.W. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Kelli Maroney
Directed by Amy Heckerling
It could just be my age, but Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a transcendent experience. It would seem that anyone who lived through the ’80s would have already seen this one, but I was too young to catch it initially, and my parents were just about 30 when this came out, so they were perhaps too old for its charms. In any case, I never saw it growing up, and I’ve always kind of indirectly avoided it because of its reputation. I figured there was no way for it to live up to the hype, similar to my experience watching Valley Girl for the first time a couple of years ago.
But lo and behold, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a film with strength enough to withstand the test of time. What sets it apart from other high school movies, a genre I generally don’t care one way or the other for, is that it is timeless yet also expertly evocative of the time it was made. I was born in 1981, so I don’t remember the early ’80s, but even still the film dredged up all kinds of nostalgic thoughts and feelings of my youth. But you can’t simply hang four stars on nostalgia alone, and that’s where the timeless part comes in.
Even though Fast Times at Ridgemont High is an ’80s movie through and through, its characters and the situations they find themselves in could exist in any era. The stories are simple tales of friendship and love, working shit jobs and finding your footing as you transition into adulthood. These are universal struggles that will resonate as long the world doesn’t descend into nuclear apocalypse and there are kids going to high school. It might take a current-gen high school kid a while to adjust to the ’80s vibe, but I feel confident that most would be able to look past that and see a bit of themselves and their friends in the film. I could be high on nostalgia, but it just feels like such a universal film.
The music keeps the pace rolling ever onward, right from the get-go. I imagine your experience would be different if you didn’t care for ’70s and ’80s rock, but if you don’t care for ’70s and ’80s rock music you’re truly missing out. Even though Cameron Crowe only wrote this one, his stamp and his focus on music is undeniably on it throughout. The music is not just music to bridge the dialogue scenes, it is woven into the fabric of the screenplay and the character’s lives on-screen. It is its own character in the film, just as it is in the lives of many kids in high school. Outside of movies, music was always my quick escape, my refuge from the bullshit that everyone seemed to be slingin’ my way. Perhaps that’s why many of Crowe’s films resonate so well with me.
It also helps that literally everyone in the film is phenomenal. Each young actor brings something unique and interesting to their character. I was especially taken by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Brian Backer (who made his debut the year earlier in The Burning). Amidst all the frank sexual dialogue and nudity that Fast Times has, their relationship is a sweet heart to the film and captures the unsure nature of young love perfectly. And who could forget Sean Penn’s killer performance as pothead surfer Jeff Spicoli, spiritual father figure to Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan.
Amy Heckerling’s expertly made Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a high school movie, but it’s not just any high school movie. It’s one of the defining films of the genre and rarely have I ever seen a film capture the feeling of going to high school so well. I didn’t go to high school until the ’90s, but Fast Times at Ridgemont High brought me right back to those hallowed, damnable halls. I loved every minute of it.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a part of the 2013 Blind Spot Series where I see one movie a month that I feel I should’ve seen a long time ago. It’s all the brainchild of Ryan McNeil over at The Matinee, one of the web’s premiere film blogs. Head over there tomorrow where he’ll have a post of his own for the series, as well as links to all the other people taking part in the series.
Nice one Will. When I tool at this icon it was because it was directed by a woman–Amy Heckerling who you’re right did a flawless job. Even a clip I see, must be a real favorite. Frankly you are correct when you say that while this movie is from the 80’s era, it might as well be made today. Plus the music of Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, Stevi Nicks et al only increases this films appeal. Good choice and as always a good review.
Thanks, JP! It really is a timeless gem. Heckerling’s direction was just flawless, I was so impressed. And yeah, the music is so great.
This is one of my own blind spots… been meaning to get around to it for quite some time. Glad to hear it lives up to the hype.
Ah man, I really do recommend it. Especially as I believe we’re fairly close in age and it might dredge up some ’80s memories.