|Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates
Director: Amy Heckerling
After writing for Rolling Stone as a teenager, Cameron Crowe (“Almost Famous”) returned to high school for a year to get his diploma. As any good writer would do, he jotted down his observations and wrote a book about high school kids. He then adapted the story for the screenplay for “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” one of the funniest and most authentic film portrayals of high school life.
First-time director Amy Heckerling (“Clueless”) knew exactly how to bring Crowe’s screenplay to life on the screen. The characters looked and acted like real kids, unlike contemporary films like “Porky’s,” which featured men pretending to be teenagers. Crowe and Heckerling perfectly captured teenage life in the early ‘80s, with the importance of the shopping mall and fast-food jobs in the lives of kids and very healthy doses of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Heckerling’s skillful directing was critical, but she was also helped by an incredible cast of unknowns who made the film unforgettable.
Sean Penn is hilarious as Jeff Spicoli, the stoner who provided the funniest lines of the film. It’s hard now to think of super-serious Sean Penn as being funny, so watching him play Spicoli just confirms his genius as an actor. Jennifer Jason Leigh gives an incredible performance as Stacy, the young girl learning about sex the hard way, Brian Backer nails his role as Mark “Rat” Ratner, the nerdy kid who falls for Stacy, and Robert Romanus brings life to Mike Damone, the street-smart ticket scalper who doles out much-needed dating advice to poor Rat.
Apart from the lead actors, the film introduces loads of future stars who landed small parts, including Forrest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage and James Russo.
The film is remembered most, however, for the incredible dream sequence featuring the beautiful Phoebe Cates and her amazing body. The scene where Phoebe climbs out of the pool and takes off her bikini top is seared in the brain of every heterosexual male who grew up in the ‘80s.
This R-rated comedy captured the natural humor of high school life, while also addressing serious topics like abortion. So many high-school flicks just rehash old clichés, while “Fast Times” provides a nice dose of reality to go along with all the fun.
Fans of the film will be pleased. The new DVD is excellent, featuring insightful and funny commentary from director Amy Heckerling and screenwriter Cameron Crowe. The “Reliving Fast Times” documentary is also a great addition, as Sean Penn and other cast members relive their experiences from the film, and we learn how the great cast of unknowns was put together. The only glaring omissions are Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh!