“First of all Rat, you never let on how much you like a girl. ‘Oh, Debbie. Hi.’ Two, you always call the shots. ‘Kiss me. You won't regret it.’ Now three, act like wherever you are, that's the place to be. ‘Isn't this great?’ Four, when ordering food, you find out what she wants, then order for the both of you. It's a classy move. ‘Now, the lady will have the linguini and white clam sauce, and a Coke with no ice.’ And five, now this is the most important, Rat. When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV."
Summer is over, and it’s time for students to re-enroll at Ridgemont High. As the year progresses, they endure the usual trials and tribulations a school year brings: crabby teachers, crappy jobs, relationship drama—basically, the stuff that youth is made of. Along the way, they grow up—some more quickly than others—as they seek their various pursuits. Some seek money, others look for sex, while some pursue love; and then there are some who are just content to chill out and party.
This film operates similarly to American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused in its use of a large, ensemble cast that’s beset with their different conflicts. However, unlike those films, the drama here doesn’t unfold over the course of one day or night; instead, we’re privy to the triumphs and tragedies of an entire year. And make no mistake: there is plenty of each, with some petty affairs sprinkled in between. The sheer breadth and scope of Fast Times at Ridgemont High is what makes it admirable; perhaps more impressive is that it pulls it off with a level of authenticity that would come to define screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s career. Fast Times plays like a prelude to the coming-of-age themes that he would continue to explore in later works such as Say Anything, Singles, and Almost Famous.
The authenticity reveals itself in the genuine characters and their relatable plights; given the sprawling, large nature of the cast, there’s a little bit of something for all audiences. If there are two main characters to be found in the film, it’s Brad (Judge Reinhold) and Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh), two siblings on opposite ends of the spectrum. Brad is a senior who is looking to make the most out of his last year by playing the dating field, while Stacy desperately seeks sexual experience and a reputation. Along the way, they cross paths with numerous stock characters that have become hallmarks of the teen comedy genre: Linda (Phoeboe Cates, whose infamous nude scene here wore out many a rewind and pause button on VCR remotes), a senior girl whom Stacy seeks for advice; the suave Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), a guy who wheels and deals in concert tickets; his friend is Rat (Brian Backer), and they soon come to blows over a girl (what else?). Then, of course, there is Ridgemont High’s most famous student: Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), who only needs “some tasty waves” and “a cool buzz” to be fine. He also lives to aggravate the hell out of Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), a strict History teacher who is convinced all of his students are on dope.
Most of these characters eventually find themselves in some sort of vulgar, embarrassing situation before the year is out. The severity of such situations runs the gamut of being caught masturbating to being forced to endure the shame of abortion alone. Still, all the effective raunchy humor finds an almost perfect marriage with the poignancy of the life lessons that accompany it. Once you’ve reached the end of the film, the times have indeed been fast, as Amy Heckerling’s film speeds by with almost reckless abandon, not unlike life itself. When you’re able to finally catch your breath, you look back on it all feeling as if you really have witnessed a year in the lives of these characters. I would hesitate to call the film valedictory or wistful, though; instead, life just speeds on, perhaps more outrageously than ever if the final epilogue is any indication. (Brett G.)
Tale of the Tape: