Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for nudity, sexuality involving teenagers, drug use, and language
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Ray Walston, Vincent Schiavelli, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Nicolas Cage (cameo), Anthony Edwards (cameo), Martin Brest (cameo), Taylor Negron (cameo)
Director: Amy Heckerling
Screenplay: Cameron Crowe (based on his book)
Review published April 19, 1998
Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a noteworthy and very popular film among teenagers at the time of its release. Although it's a bit dated, it's one of those movies that shouldn't be overlooked when going over the significant films of the 1980s. Lots of stars were borne from the film, most notably Sean Penn (State of Grace, U Turn), who provides the film with the best moments as surfer/stoner Jeff Spicoli.
The storyline follows the lives of several teens going to Ridgemont High in Southern California during the early 1980s. There's the new girl who searches for love and intimacy, the young nerdy boy that finds romance an awkward proposition, and there's a young surfer who finds his antics cause himself a heap of trouble with the stern teacher in one of his classes.
Although Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a much loved film, especially for those who are nostalgic for the time period, the sum of its parts is greater than it is as a whole. To say Sean Penn steals the movie with his performance might actually rank as an understatement. He carries the film on his shoulders, providing the laughs and most of the interest, and when he's onscreen the film is at its best. The main storyline involving Jennifer Jason Leigh (Short Cuts, The Anniversary Party) and her search for love doesn't involve him much, and is a bit more serious, but gives the film the depth it needs to show it is more than a typical teen comedy.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High proved to be a genuine surprise for filmgoers of its time. A rare frank and open teen film that offers some genuinely funny moments, and manages to transcend its one-dimensional characters and contrived situations. Although the storyline is rather predictable and the situations and characters unrealistic, the film is still quite worthwhile for the funnier bits, and it's a must see for fans of 80s films and Sean Penn.
-- Followed by a short-lived TV series in 1986, "Fast Times".
©1998 Vince Leo