The students of Ridgemont High explore their burgeoning adulthood and all the relationships, responsibility, and awkwardness that adolescence brings.
I read the book of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” when I was in high school. There was a tattered copy of it in my 10th grade English teacher’s classroom and hormone crazy brained Mike ate it up.
Strange that I never saw the film till I was in my late 20s.
This is another of those movies that, if I had seen it at the time it came out and at the right age, I think I would have loved. As it stands, I do like it, but with a whole host of qualifiers.
The first qualifier is that I don’t think it is very funny at all. I imagine that some of the antics and characters in this movie made people bust a gut the first time they saw it but humor can really suffer the ravages of time and this film is no exception to that common complaint of older movies. On top of that, some of the scenes that were probably the funniest have been spoiled by countless top ten lists and updated versions in more contemporary films (Phoebe Cates sequence and BJ practice.)
The second is that this film has some depictions of underage sex that are disturbing, though tame in their execution. It is hard to watch Stacy, a girl who is supposed to be 15, lose her virginity to a guy in his 20s. The actress isn’t 15 and the scene is not romanticised or idealised but it also isn’t presented for the sad thing that I would hope anyone would consider it to be.
So why do I like this film? Several reasons, the first of which is that in high school, I felt a lot like Mark Ratner. I was small, had crushes on girls that were out of my league, and never actually worked up the courage to ask them out. I was embarrassed of my inexperience and didn’t think anything could ever change that (in fact nothing ever did but that is another story). Watching his struggle for female attention and his friendship with a guy who ultimately betrays him rings really true for me as does Stacy’s story of wanting to find out what this whole ‘sex thing’ is all about. For many kids who never really get a great understanding of what these relationships are like, the mystery of it, as it is presented in Fast Times, feels very authentic.
Another thing I like about the film is the variety of things in the film that are presented accurately. The drudgery of having a job while in high school, the pain in the butt that having a teacher that doesn’t like you can be, and the constant obsession over a girl are all very reminiscent of how I view my own high school experiences.
Unfortunately, this film has simply not aged well. It is a bit of a time capsule which some may find enjoyable but I wonder how much of it would be relatable to a modern high schooler. Would they find the antics of Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn, “Tree of Life”) too tame? The worst he does is order a pizza in class. Other than that, the worst he does is show up late for class.
In the end, I find myself wishing for more from this film. I want to like it. I want to say that this is a movie that I will revisit many times over my life but the fact of the matter is that I probably won’t ever watch it again. It may remind me of high school but other movies do that better and too much of this film is spent wallowing in the parts of that experience that I have come to grips with and moved on from.
As a person in my late thirties now, I just don’t relate anymore to the angst and hormone driven characters, even if I find them to be well conceived and the film, well executed.
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