Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a caricature, almost a parody of high school in the late 70s, early 80s. At least it seems that way from the perspective of someone who went to high school in the 90s. While I knew people in school that I could say were just like the characters in that movie, I never experienced everything that is portrayed there. Of course, the novelist (Crowe) went under cover at a real high school to write the book, but I suspect it’s an amalgam of anecdotes and stories the author experienced or heard, colorfully elaborated, and exaggerated to create a fun and entertaining comedy. It could also be because I wasn’t really with the ‘in’ crowd in high school, and never would have sought out a lot of the situations Crowe probably did.
Fast Times is a 1982 film based on the novel of the same name, written by Cameron Crowe. Crowe went undercover at Clairemont High School in San Diego to research the book and document his experiences. It is a coming of age story which mostly follows the sophomore year of Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) as they navigate the strange, and hilarious social dynamic of high school, entering the workforce, and early adult life. It is another film that features a plethora of stars before they were stars, including Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, and Sean Penn.
This is a quintessential 80s movie. Shopping malls, striped socks, feathered hair, all of it. It’s also a must-watch in general. Along with movies like American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, Fast Times gives us a view of American life that many of us can barely remember, and that’s not because of any experimental pharmaceuticals either. The older we get, the less we remember about that time in our lives. Sure, we can recall the highlights. Might have a flash or two of fond memories, but how many of us remember what it was really like to struggle through that huge change in our lives? Right about the time your body starts rebelling against you, you have to find a job, learn responsibility, make and lose friends, and somehow still learn something. It’s a time when our choices will often effect the rest of our lives. This movie lets us look at our former selves (Ratner in my case) and remember what it felt like to go through all that.
While Fast Times is absolutely a comedy, it doesn’t shy away from the dramatic aspects of the story. These kids really are learning to become adults, with all of the situations and decisions that come along with it. There are tough moments, like Stacy telling Mike that she’s pregnant and wants his help with an abortion. It was a very real moment in the movie for both characters, with reactions that are quite believable and understandable. I was also struck by the genuinely heart-warming moment between Spicoli (Penn) and Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) the old, gruff teacher visited the student’s home to get back some of the time the stoner wasted. We all had a teacher, or teachers, like that, who cared. Who showed how much they wanted us to succeed. Mr. Hand showed up to make up for the time Spicoli wasted, but he did it because he didn’t want his student to fail.
This is honestly a good, funny movie. It has its serious moments, but there’s a lot of laughs. It may not resonate with young people today, but I bet they’ll find something in it they can relate to. We didn’t get too crazy with the drinks this time, due to lack of time itself. We paired it with cherry old fashioneds, which have become a mainstay cocktail in our house. Give the movie a shot, if you haven’t already, or watch it again. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.