Ahhhh, the ’80s: the era of the gross-out teen comedies! Whether it be Weird Science, Revenge of the Nerds, Porky’s, or what have you, teen comedies were all the rage at this point. The cliche-ridden stories of how a creepy teen who complains about never getting a girlfriend ends up obtaining one only by force, where it was acceptable to make fun of people who were a little different then you and play it off as “boys will be boys,” and where being the “nice guy” is never enough! Lets be honest here, these films are not that good, ending up as nothing but drivel and nonsense that teenagers can eat right up to make themselves feel better by seeing themselves in unrealistic scenarios like these films portrayed. Then something happened. In the years ’84-’86, all of a sudden there was a boom of films that turned the early ’80s teen drama on its back by portraying these teenagers as real people (crazy idea, I know!). With Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and the king of ’80s cinema, The Breakfast Club, these stereotypes were thrown for a loop and given a newfound sense of respect that real teenagers need. Before all of these films, though, director Amy Heckerling broke boundaries to garner the respect that these characters deserved with her 1982 smash hit, Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Following multiple high school students as they all prepare to head back to class, Fast Times mainly centers on Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a teenager who isn’t quite sure what she wants and constantly making decisions she doesn’t quite understand. Along with her, you also follow her admirer Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), Stacy’s confused brother Brad (Judge Reinhold), and everyone’s favorite stoner, Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn!!!). All these stories lead us through so many different deconstructions of high school archetypes, as Heckerling tries to prove to us that high school really does suck.
The thing that should be noted about Fast Times is, yes, it is very graphic about the subject matter and doesn’t shy away from the sex, drugs, and overall cringe moments high school has to offer. In this, though, Amy Heckerling deconstructs the whole genre to give us something real, something raw and, at the very end, kind of heartbreaking. These characters are no different from characters of movies like Porky’s or Revenge of the Nerds, but instead of being one-note, these individuals go through many changes of emotions and the realistic pitfalls of their actions. Sex in this movie isn’t a lighthearted thing; there are consequences, whether it be unplanned heartbreaks or pregnancies. None of it comes off as fake or exploitative– it’s all done with the care and decency a story like Fast Times deserves. That’s not to say the whole film is just one big PSA. It’s one hell of a comedy on the other side of the coin, with Penn’s legendary performance of Spicoli being untouchable, and other character moments like Brad’s jumping from job to job, Mike’s awkward moments and Mark’s best friend and ticket scalper Mike (Robert Romanus) give us breaks of comedic relief in between. Lastly, how could anyone deny this legendary cast??? I mean, apart from the already mentioned names, you have others like Phoebe Cates, a young Forest Whitaker, and Ray Walston. Throw in a little early Nic Cage cameo and that rounds off one impressive cast. Fast Times At Ridgemont High is a very crucial film in teenage cinema history, one I’d throw up there with the likes of Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.
Fast Times At Ridgemont High
dir. Amy Heckerling
Screens Saturday, 8/12, 3:30 and 7:30 @ Brattle Theatre
Double feature with Valley Girl!
Part of the ongoing series: A Year of Women in Cinema: ’80s Comedy