Welcome one and welcome all! I don’t know about you, but I adore ’80s movies more than I adore most things in life, including, and not limited to, my love for chocolate. So, without further ado, here’s a little segment known as #The80sMan. First stop, Cameron Crowe’s cult classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
*Editor’s Note: The following portion originally appeared on Alex’s now deleted blog, Let Them Eat Cake, circa January 2017.
The year was 1982. Cameron Crowe was not a household name yet, or maybe he was, I wasn’t fucking born then so what do I know. It would be seven years before Say Anything, and almost a decade before audiences saw the likes of Jerry McGuire and Almost Famous. Almost two decades before the controversial Aloha. (If you want to know why Aloha is controversial according to many, read this.)
Yet, for those of you have seen Crowe’s aforementioned works, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) definitely feels like a first start in many ways. I mean it is the first film he wrote screenplay for, so in that respect that the movie is good, but it’s also lacking the dimension of his subsequent films. There’s no round-ness to the characters. It chronicles their time in high school for about the length of the school year, which culminates in the end of the year dance.
It’s filled with all the typical high school drama as well. Pregnancy, sex, boys, girls, breaking curfew, you name it, it’s probably in this movie.
But not in a way that makes it feel real. Like, you almost don’t care that Mike (Robert Romanus) is a complete dick to Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by the end of the movie. You should, and I wanted to, but I was left feeling kind of “meh.” The only redeeming grace in the portrayal of Stacy’s love life is her relationship with Rat (Brian Backer); Rat makes you want to root for him, in the same way that you want to root for the guy who gets treated like a kicked puppy by the popular girl. Stacy’s not that mean to him, but still, that’s stereotypical guy Rat is: the proverbial kicked puppy.
The one positive feature of the film is that it portrays female sexuality in a good light: Stacy, with coaching from Linda (Phoebe Cates), knows what she wants and she goes after it. While it gets her into the most cliched type of trouble imaginable in a high school movie, it’s nice to see that there’s no slut-shaming going on in the film. Good job Cameron Crowe; you go Cameron Crowe.
The other slightly positive feature of the film is Sean Penn’s portrayal of stoner/surfer, Jeff Spicoli. Jeff is in danger of not graduating, and his ultimate goal is to achieve the perpetual high and the perpetual wave. He mostly succeeds in the perpetual high department. Watching it at first, I found Jeff to be quite annoying, but, after watching it for the the third time, he kind of grew on me. Far out, man.
I think part of the reason as to why I didn’t feel a connection with this movie was, in part, because I had such high expectations for it. You know, in many ways it’s the quintessential ‘80s movie before there were quintessential ‘80s movies to write home about. Yet, it does leave you lacking, and as a viewer you cannot ignore that.
I wanted more for the characters; more time with them, more interesting story lines. I wanted them to be Penny Lane or Jerry McGuire, but they just weren’t. Maybe that’s why Crowe’s later movies succeed so well; he knows what he’s doing in the later ones, and he shines because of that.
I’m not going to discourage you from seeing it because you should be able to make up your own minds, it just won’t be my go to movie, and that’s okay.
For now, I can say I’ve seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and conquered yet another ‘80s movie off of the growing list my father gave me (Hi Dad!).
*Editor’s Note 2: Since this was written, I now, peculiarly, find myself watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High on occasion. The movie and its characters have definitely grown on me, and I can see why people say its a cult classic.