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Photo: ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’
Living in a time period infected by nostalgia for neon colors and the mullet hairstyle, it seems that the 2020s cannot get enough of the 1980s. Trends and fashion statements that seemed to have no chance of rival are making their way in today’s world. This seems to be especially prevalent because of shows like ‘Stranger Things’ which capture life in the 80s while also romanticizing it for a new generation. Among all the 80s-related hype, ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ has returned to theaters for a limited time for its 40-year anniversary. A film heavily rooted in 80s culture, stereotypes, and movie tropes, how does the now 40-year-old ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ hold up today?
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Initial Release and What Makes It Memorable
At just 22 years old, Cameron Crowe, would be director of ‘Almost Famous,’ went undercover as a high schooler in San Diego to study the lives of the students he was living amongst. The product was ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High,’ a book based on the lives of the teenagers he had met while in school. In the 1980s, Crowe would adapt the book into a screenplay of the same name. ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High,’ directed by Amy Heckerling and starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, and Judge Reinhold. It was released with excellent reviews and overall was well received by audiences across the country. Despite the plot being called messy by some critics, it seemed that the film was praised for its comedy and down-to-earth energy. Despite a virtually unknown cast and little marketing from Universal Studios, the film was successful and earned 2.5 million dollars and was ranked 29th in U.S. film releases in 1982. However, ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ really gained popularity as time went on, eventually being considered a classic film and a great piece on the lives of teenagers.
Considering its huge success, what makes ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ so memorable is its hilarious comedy and portrayal of daily high school life for teenagers. The film is packed with funny one-liners and well-set-up jokes that at times feel a little crude, but make for an excellent watching experience. A lot of the humor comes from the nail-bitingly awkward situations the characters get into, such as Bradley (Judge Reinhold) being caught masturbating by Phoebe (Linda Barett). It is the awkwardness and teenage-centered conflict that makes for excellent comedy.
Along with its humor, ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ also tackles serious issues like sex, drugs, and relationships in a realistic manner. Although the film tends to romanticize some elements of teenage life in high school, it also paints these situations for what they are: sensitive and difficult to navigate. This is perfectly displayed in Stacy’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) story arc where she has sex for the first time with Mike (Robert Romanus) and it only lasts a few minutes. Stacy struggles to talk to her friend Phoebe about the experience, lying that her partner lasted longer. She eventually finds out that Mike impregnated her and she’s forced to tell him about it despite his clear lack of care for the matter.
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How Does ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ Hold Up?
Although ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ seems to tackle issues that are prevalent today, it still was a movie written and made 40 years ago. In some way or another, the film is bound to be dated, and in some aspects, it definitely is. From the opening of the film, we can see a sign that reads “I am a homo” smacked on a student’s back and talk about a girl losing her virginity at 13, topics that schools are meant to address more directly now. It is little moments like this that feel a little dated in today’s terms. The relationship between Stacy and Ron is not only questionable but downright distasteful. Stacy, a 15-year-old, lies about her age to Ron, a 26-year-old, telling him that she is 19. For a number of reasons, this is extremely problematic and the film never really addresses how terrible this interaction really was. Instead, the story brushes it off to make room for Stacy’s other lovers.
However, ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ still manages to still tackle topics in a profoundly progressive manner, such as Stacy’s abortion. For a film taking place and made in the 1980s, ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ handles the topic of teenage abortion openly with teenage immaturity surrounding the matter. For its time, abortion was a topic rarely mentioned onscreen and depicted in such a manner. Living in 2022, a time when abortion rights are currently under attack, it is a breath of fresh air to see an older film handle the topic so well. Similar to the ‘Breakfast Club’ from the same era, ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ feels like an important film for anyone who has experienced life as a high school student.
The Legacy of Ridgemont High
After 40 years, it seems that ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ has continued to be held in a strongly positive light. The film was ranked number 2 in ‘50 Best High School Movies’ by Entertainment Weekly, ranked number 18 in Empire’s ‘50 Best Teen Movies,’ and ranked number 15 in Bravo’s ‘100 Funniest Movies.’ The film was also given a television spin-off just titled ‘Fast Times’ and sparked plenty of film, music, and television references such as the album, ‘Fast Times at Barrington High,’ by ‘The Academy Is…’ and ‘Fast Times at Fairmont High,’ the name of a novella by Vernor Vinge. Finally, with the re-release of ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ in theaters, it is clear that the film has cemented itself as not just a classic of the 80s, but a hilariously relatable story of teens. When looking back on ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High,’ it is important to acknowledge the clearly dated aspects of the film, but also recognize what makes it so timeless.
By Spencer Hoffman
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Spencer Hoffman is a writer for The Hollywood Insider and current film student. He is an avid consumer of cinema and television and enjoys sharing his insight on these topics within his features and reviews. He strongly believes in the power of the written word and the importance of truth in everything. Spencer aligns with The Hollywood Insider’s views of empowerment and raising all types of voices up. He hopes to entertain and incite meaningful conversation with his pieces.