Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

24 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is a vulgar comedy with different stories featuring different high school teenagers, but it’s a little more honest than most “teensplotation” films in the 1980s. You know the type—the vile and nasty movies featuring horny teenagers as subjects of immature sex jokes and a lot of nudity (“Porky’s” is the prime example). “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” differs from most elements of those films, though not all. There are sex jokes and a lot of nudity, but the teenage characters are written with a little more drive. This is a character-based teen film, and some of the characters are quite likable.

We have the shy freshman girl—Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh)—who has decided to lose her virginity this year. Then, we have Stacy’s older—and more experienced—best friend Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates), who has a long-distance relationship. Then, we have Stacy’s older brother Brad (Judge Reinhold), who is spending his senior year working at fast-food places and keeps getting fired for going just outside the book. Then, we have the smooth-talking Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), who thinks he knows it all when it comes to sex. Then, we have Damone’s friend Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), a virgin who has eyes for Stacy.

Each of these characters has his/her own misadventure through sex. Stacy loses her virginity to an older guy and wonders if sex will be better the second time around. She gets advice from Linda, who is also the subject of Brad’s sexual fantasies. Mark has a crush on Stacy, and asks Damone for advice. But little does he know that Damone is all talk—that’s especially true in the scene in which Damone and Stacy do it together and Damone asks, “Did you feel it?”

But my favorite character—and also, the more standoutish character—is the “surfer dude” Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn). Spicoli is a surfer and a slacker, always a nuisance in his history teacher’s eyes. His history teacher is the uptight Mr. Hand (Ray Walston). Throughout the film, Mr. Hand and Spicoli continue to have a feud and this leads to many memorable confrontations, each funny and an indication as to the matter of Mr. Hand being the one to give Spicoli a reality check.

All of the young actors are fantastic. In particular, Sean Penn is absolutely perfect as the afore-mentioned dude who is rumored to have been “stoned since the third grade.” And Jennifer Jason Leigh shows freshness and a credible innocence that her character is supposed to go through—she’s great in this movie. But she is also subject to most of the nudity in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”—this film came close to an NC-17 rating, but got an R. Also, there’s a scene featuring a topless Phoebe Cates is sure to be the subject of many male sexual fantasies.

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” doesn’t have a consistent tone, however. It’s hard to tell whether the film is trying to be up or down about the sex scenes. Sometimes, it’s also hard to watch Leigh, who looks so innocent throughout the film, go through some heavy stuff, like getting an abortion after Damone “knocks her up.” There’s a better movie to be made with all the actors, but “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” isn’t a total failure.

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