Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

Release Date: August 13th, 1982 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Amy Heckerling Actors: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Sean Penn, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Ray Walston, Scott Thomson, Vincent Schiavelli, Amanda Wyss, D.W. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Kelli Maroney




t the Ridgemont Mall, the teenage girls scope out the boys, while the boys scope out the girls, hoping for some action. Thanks to typical peer pressure, everyone is looking to lose their virginities. Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is one such 15-year-old, goaded by her more experienced friend and restaurant coworker Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates, perhaps unintentionally stealing the show with an iconic, mid-movie nude scene). Other groups include wannabe surfer and marijuana-user Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) and his followers; considerably conceited All American Burger employee-of-the-month Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) and his staff, including his girlfriend Lisa (Amanda Wyss); Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), the local ticket scalper and bookie, and his buddy Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), the dweeb who continually falls victim to pranks and bullying; and a wealth of other recognizable cliques and stereotypes.

As a new class schedule begins at Ridgemont High School, the vibe doesn’t shift; sex is always on the mind. Between extensive gossiping (“People exaggerate so much here”), discussing oral sex techniques and other sexual topics, and sneaking out for unsupervised rendezvouses, these youngsters are keen on pairing up and unconcerned with studying or preparing for the future. In many ways, it’s an updated version of “American Graffiti,” where misadventures and mischievousness supersede earnest thoughts about impending responsibilities. There’s also the classic nemeses of authority figures, here never better brought to life than with the ceaselessly strict Mr. Hand (Ray Walston).

With a screenplay by Cameron Crowe, based on his book, the film boasts plenty of comically uncomfortable moments, emphasizing the unpreparedness and gracelessness of teen interactions, the intermittent sweetness, and the generally carefree scenarios of youth that feel extremely significant at the time (but which prove far less than impressionable in adulthood). School spirit, sports rivalries, reputation/image, and just hanging out have never been funnier. In the world of Ridgemont High, awkwardness is exceptionally entertaining. “Show a little pride.”

Also typical of Crowe’s influence is a continual soundtrack, populated with hits of the era, nicely complementing the hook-ups and the break-ups and the oftentimes blundering navigation of sex and adolescence. Interestingly, there’s not much of a plot; the music helps move the characters through what is essentially a montage of high school routines, even if it somewhat comprehensively covers the highlights of those formative years. It’s an observation and a snapshot of this period more than a specific narrative of an individual experience. But by the end, with a hint of fantasy and a touch of romance, this small but memorable comedy proves immensely satisfying – closing with one of the most perfect song selections for the coda (“Goodbye, Goodbye” by Oingo Boingo).

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10