Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

(On DVD, November 2017) Fifteen minutes in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I experienced a sudden and unexplainable feeling of nostalgia for malls as they existed in the nineties (with bookstores, record stores, movie theatres and other niceties that are being paved over by the march of digital progress) which is really weird considering that as a teenager in a small town, I spent nearly no time at all in malls until my twenties, and even then not that much. Such is the effectiveness of the film, given that it presents high schoolers as they navigate between school, home and the mall (usually as a workplace). It’s directed by Amy Heckerling, from Cameron Crowe’s first script (based on his own book as an undercover high-schooler) and it’s still a cutting, unflinching look at the teenage experience, even when bathed in movie magic. While billed as a comedy, it gets unexpectedly serious at times (such as with an abortion subplot that exemplifies a major betrayal between so-called friends) yet does not really dive deep into misery despite the protagonists’ reversals of fortune. The cast of the movie is amazing—not only does it feature solid performances by Sean Penn (as a stoner surfer hilarious far away from his current persona), Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, and Phoebe Cates, it also features near-cameos by then-newcomers Nicolas Cage and Forrest Whittaker. Good characters, organic plot developments, an interesting soundtrack, and a cheerful refusal to bow to conventions help make Fast Times at Ridgemont High still interesting today even after thirty-five more years of teenage high school comedies. No wonder it’s become a cultural touchstone—and now I know firsthand what everyone is talking about, including the infamous poolside scene.

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