This Distracted Globe random header image

Tasty Waves and A Cool Buzz

July 10th, 2011 · 2 Comments

“I was angry about seeing so many movies with naked women and never seeing a naked guy. So when I shot the sex scene between Stacy and Damone in the poolhouse, I wanted it to be uncomfortable. She was naked, so I wanted to show the guy naked too. And the ratings board said, ‘You do that and you’ll get an X rating.’ I said, ‘How come you can see all these naked ladies in movies?’ And they said, ‘Because the female organ is not aggressive, but the male organ is.’ So what? Should we shoot it? Whatever. But I was a very cranky young lady, and the idea of compromising makes you crazy.” Amy Heckerling in Sean Penn: His Life and Times by Richard T. Kelly

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Directed by Amy Heckerling
Screenplay by Cameron Crowe, based on his novel
Produced by Irving Azoff, Art Linson
90 minutes

A guerrilla handbook to growing up in America, Fast Times at Ridgemont High should have been the last word in high school movies for a while, just like The Outlaw Josey Wales put a nail in the pine box carting around the western genre in 1976. Fast Times didn’t set out to perform last rites on the teenager movie per se, but is such an exhilarating, A-to-Z tour of familiar landscapes that it’s a wonder John Hughes found any territory to carve out for himself. Rather than an incursion by adults into the world of teenagers, Fast Times feels like an inside job. The project was the brainwave of Cameron Crowe, a prodigal 22-year-old Rolling Stone reporter whose publisher David Obst suggested that the only way to uncover what high school kids were all about these days was to actually go back to high school.

So in the fall of 1979, Crowe returned home to his parents in San Diego and received front office permission from Clairemont High School to enroll as a student. Crowe’s surveillance culminated in six characters: a middle class brother and sister, her sexually experienced friend, a nerd, a music obsessed ticket scalper and a stoned surfer. At the end of the school year, Crowe approached his subjects and revealed he was writing a book. At the time, they were indifferent. Universal Pictures grabbed the film rights and put Crowe to work on a script with Art Linson, a producer Crowe had met reporting from the set of American Hot Wax in 1975. In the search for a director, Linson recalled an AFI student thesis he’d seen titled Getting It Over With and offered the job to Amy Heckerling, a 27-year-old who’d yet to direct a feature film.

What qualifies as a plot goes like this: Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works at Perry’s Pizza in the mall. When a foxy looking stereo salesman asks her out, Stacy’s friend Linda (Phoebe Cates) encourages her to be sexually aggressive with him. Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) is assistant to the assistant manager of the movie theater and shares his ardor for Stacy with the smooth talking Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), who dispenses love advice to the geek. Stacy’s brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) is employee of the month at “All America Burger” but after blowing his cool with a customer, suffers the indignity of accepting work at “Captain Hook Fish ‘n Chips”. Stoner Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) rejects the concerns of his peers, but runs afoul with history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) in a battle of wills that spans the entire school year.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High shoves other high school movies aside like wimps because Crowe and Heckerling inject so much honesty into the film: laugh out loud honesty, quirky honesty, tender honesty, brutal honesty. It’s not a war documentary, but it sometimes feels like it could be. Rather than turn predictable, Fast Times samples from several  genres. The duels between Spicoli and Mr. Hand are like highlights from a stoner comedy, while Heckerling isn’t kidding around with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s sex scenes, opting for stark realism. What lingers through all of this is how court jester Spicoli suggests there may be more to growing up than consumerism and sex. Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards and Nicolas Cage (billed as Nicolas Coppola) made early career appearances.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 148,349 users: 76% for Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: N/A

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Brother/sister relationship · Coming of age · Dreams and visions · Drunk scene · Famous line · High school · Love Triangle · Music · Reckless Driver

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Megan // Jul 11, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Stark is the word.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Jul 14, 2011 at 9:17 am

    Megan: I think that’s what confused critics who were expecting a silly teen movie they could ignore with ease.

Leave a Comment