The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High 
Director: Amy Heckerling
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates
Running Time: 90 minutes
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a fun movie. It’s a bit strange saying that about a film involving statutory rape and an abortion, but there’s something to be said about its assortment of entertaining characters and future movie stars.
Based on Cameron Crowe’s novel in which he went undercover at a California high school, Fast Times covers the whole spectrum of student types. Jocks, stoners, nerds, middle-class kids and sexual deviants all have an equal amount of time to show us a glimpse into their worlds.
There’s Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold), a fast food manager who hates wearing their awful uniforms. Nevertheless, he is a strong older brother to Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a 15-year-old virgin who becomes obsessed with sex thanks to her best friend Linda’s (Phoebe Cates) constant praise of it. Stacy has a budding relationship with nice guy Mark Ratner (Brian Backner), though he may be too shy for his own good. Mark’s buddy, Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), a ticket-scalping slacker, tries to help him with the ladies.
At the center of it all is Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), a surfer dude who has been “stoned since the third grade.” He is the best character in the film, hands down, mostly due to Penn’s hilarious performance. Spicoli is the kind of guy who just goes with the flow, getting high with his buds while showing up to class whenever he gets around to it. His constant truancy is the cause of a feud between him and his history teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), leading to some of the film’s most amusing moments.
There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and many of the random subplots are left unresolved, but the film never fails to be engaging. Much of this can be attributed to the screenplay, as well as its impressive cast of young actors. Fast Times served as a bit of a launching pad for so many careers. Aside from those listed earlier, others with memorable parts include the likes of Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz and James Russo. There’s even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role from Nicolas Cage (then Nicolas Coppola).
Although Cameron Crowe did not direct the film, his musical fingerprints are all over it. The music — which includes the likes of Jackson Browne, Don Henley and Billy Squier — is spot-on for its time period. There is a satisfactory amount of raunchiness, a seemingly obligatory part of any good teen film, with the highlight being one of the most paused scenes in movie history: Phoebe Cates emerging from the water and deciding her bikini top was no longer necessary. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is very much an 80s film and very much a teen film, but it earns high marks as both.
Fun fact: three actors in this film would go on to win an Oscar for Best Actor: Nicolas Cage, Forest Whitaker and Sean Penn.