Anthony's Film Review

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

This high school comedy is raunchy, but still notable for presenting an interesting cast of characters...

If you look at the past several decades of American film, you may find interesting films about young people, either in high school or college, and the lives they live in a particular era. They can be dramas or comedies, or a hybrid of the two genres. When it comes to comedies about young people, you will definitely find some with raunchy and irreverent humor related to sex, alcohol, and other potentially uncomfortable subjects. It's practically the norm these days. If you like these kinds of movies, there are plenty to choose from. It's really just a matter of what kind of setting you want to watch.

Let's take, for example, a comedy about wild and crazy teens set in the 1980s. Fast Times at Ridgemont High would undoubtedly be a great example of it, if not the quintessential 80s comedy. This movie, released in 1982, is like a snapshot of high school life in the 1980s, if the school is one where the intellectuals are vastly outnumbered by the not-so-intellectual. The movie also has some memorable scenes containing sex and nudity, another reason that you can't ignore this one.

There actually is no formal plot in this movie. Sure, you have situations involving specific characters, but you don't have one central story. Again, this movie is a snapshot of the 1980s, and all it does is highlight events occurring during a year of high school. For example, the movie begins with various teens working at various places in a mall, like two girls at a fast food counter and two guys working as movie theater ushers. On the campus of Ridgemont High School, these youngsters go to class, though they usually have other things on their minds not related to academics.

For instance, the two girls I mentioned earlier discuss sex over lunch in the school cafeteria. One of the girls, Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is a virgin getting sex tips from the other girl, the sexually experienced Linda (Phoebe Cates). Specifically, Linda is teaching Stacy how to perform oral sex, using a carrot as a visual aid. As for the characters of the opposite sex, you have Mark (Brian Backer) getting dating advice from the suave and cool Mike (Robert Romanus). Then there's Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli, a surfer dude who takes pride in being a 100% slacker. The movie is not about him more than anyone else, but you could say he represents the kind of people attending Ridgemont High. That's perhaps why he graces the movie's poster.

This is a good time for me to mention another male character as well as an unforgettable scene. Judge Reinhold plays Brad, a guy who is your typical young guy, though he can't hold a steady job at whatever restaurant employs him. This character also finds himself aroused by Linda. When he comes over to a pool party where Linda is lounging in a red bikini, he proceeds to a bathroom in the house to relieve himself. That's right. He masturbates while fantasizing about Linda coming out of the swimming pool and slowly opening her bikini top to expose her breasts. (I once heard of video rental stores with VHS copies of this movie that are ruined at this scene, because viewers repeatedly rewound the tape to watch Phoebe Cates bare her chest. I wonder if doing this would also ruin DVD copies of the movie.)

The only other characters of interest are two teachers. One is Mr. Vargas (Vincent Schiavelli), an eccentric biology teacher who would not hesitate taking the class to an autopsy on a field trip. The other is U.S. history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), who is so strict and tough that it's easy to hate the guy. What's interesting is that you can't hate this teacher 100%. When he has to deal with the lazy truant Jeff Spicoli, he has the capability to handle it with amusement. For example, when Jeff orders a pizza that is delivered straight to the classroom, Mr. Hand addresses the problem by giving pizza slices to other students and having one slice himself.

So did I enjoy Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Yes, I enjoyed it, simply as a slice of life among high school students. What's interesting is that this movie is based on a book by Cameron Crowe, who had gone undercover in high school to document what really goes on among teens (and who has also written this film's screenplay). This movie is also the directorial debut of Amy Heckerling, who does a nice job presenting an entertaining movie that doesn't require a plot structure. Overall, nice job by everyone involved. Ridgemont High certainly defines the fast times of the 80s.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Fast Times at Ridgemont High, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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