Movie Project #4: Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

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 [1982]

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]
Director: Amy Heckerling
Writer: Cameron Crowe
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy
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.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

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.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

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.

28 thoughts on “Movie Project #4: Fast Times at Ridgemont High [1982]

  1. CMrok93 says:

    It’s a bit uneven if you look at it nowadays, but it’s still hilarious and a perfect-snippet of Sean Penn’s career. As goofy and as iconic of a role as Spicoli may have been. Still though, you have to give it to Penn for at least being able to get past that character and actually do something amazing and great with his career. Good review Eric.

  2. tenaciousbitch says:

    LOVE that movie. I think watching it is kind of a right of passage. I went to high school in the 80s, so I can definitely relate to everything in the film. And all those characters, the jocks, stoners, girls like Linda and Stacie – all went to my high school. We had a class clown who was a little like Spicoli , but he wasn’t nearly as funny or as clueless! Glad you liked the movie! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Dan says:

    A seminal classic and a great introduction to Cameron Crowe. Gotta love Phoebe Cates in this movie – she’s undoubtedly memorable..!

  4. Morgan R. Lewis says:

    I saw this for the first time just last year, and I agree: it’s a very fun movie. Spicoli is hilarious in a way that most stoner characters in modern comedies try to be, but fail at. Love the history exam between him and Mr. Hand at the end.

  5. Tom says:

    Great write-up. I really really love this movie. Sure it’s not perfect, and it’s imperfections I would agree stem from it’s inability to wrap up its many subplots and the heavyloaded cast. I had absolutely no clue Nic Cage makes a cameo here. Another reason to go back and watch.

  6. ruth says:

    I haven’t seen this one Eric, for some reason I just never got around to it. Funny how different and dorky Sean Penn looked back then, ahah.

  7. 70srichard says:

    One of the great high school comedies of the 80s. Nice review, the payoffs on most of the characters are nice. I like the resolution of the Mr. Hand Spicolli feud. I want to do that myself sometimes with students who take up everyone else’s time. Damn I’m getting to be a crotchety old man.

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