Cameron Crowe went undercover as a student at Clairmont High School (in San Diego) while in his early years spent as a writer for Rolling Stone magazine. He came, he saw, he recorded; and thus came his book that inspired a film of the same name. "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", so well-remembered by the nostalgic folk of yesteryear that it is sometimes called by just the first two words in its complete title. It is more or less based upon what Crowe observed while spending time in California, although for the film adaptation's script, which he wrote; only the small details are squeezed successfully from the sponge that absorbed so much thought and realism. But in the case of "Fast Times", the small details are delicate and more than enough. The film has lived on way past the year of 1982 when it was first released, and that's just the first step. That it has garnered a sort of cult following amongst the heavily nostalgic and more casual film aficionados says even more. It's another one of those movies that was part of a great cinematic movement; like (for example) "Animal House" the film is lewd and irreverent but also relatable and not without human decency at its core. It's the perfect slacker movie and a fine piece of pure escapism.
Ridgemont High is not a real High School. This is probably why I cannot recall whether any of the characters had ever mentioned the location of the campus. The script covers a lot of ground and a lot of characters just like all the other high school flicks that both preceded and followed it. In this sense, story is not relative to the charm and it's kind of a mess, but the quirky characters, situations, and endless supply of gnarly quotes more than make up for all of that. Perhaps the most prolific spotlight-stealer is a student by the name of Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn). A pot-smoking surfer dude who is on "chill" mode 24/7, Penn's character is featured on the posters and DVD cover art for the movie frequently, although his character doesn't exactly dominate every frame of the picture. But when he's in the zone, he's in the zone, and if the line "no shoes, no shirt, no dice" escapes you after watching this film, I might just deem you slightly inhuman. I find it hard to resist such crass charm.
The only things of interest that happen on school grounds are classes with a grumpy professor (Ray Walston) that is forever convinced that the entire school is on dope, another with an off-kilter science teacher (Vincent Schiavelli), and time between classes spent walking down the hall, following each individual character as they live out their lives. Take for example the story of Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a freshman who is just beginning to understand her sexual nature and wishes to explore it. She chooses to experiment with a cute punkish boy named Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) who coincidentally was trying to set his shy friend up with the girl before they started their love affair. Stacy is a large portion of the movie, as most of the central characters save for Jeff are connected to her in some way. For instance, she has a brother named Brad (Judge Reinhold) who the camera lingers on for quite some time. One could even say that his exploits in the world of part-time jobs count as their own little side-plot. He has a tender relationship with Stacy, and when she discovers that she's pregnant with Mike's child and receives no proper support from him, Brad is there by her side.
I'd have to say the film is pretty accurate of the chaotic and hilariously surreal atmosphere of an American High School. The film divides its characters into groups most of the time (there's a stoner crowd that Jeff hangs with) - and indeed cliques do exist in High School - and the situations are those which most of us can relate to. The Jeff character is not really a character at all, but rather some sort of attitude, if you will. He represents a person that rests safely inside of us, locked up for the well-being of ourselves and others. He has no self-control and is practically oblivious of this; in one scene, he orders a pizza that is delivered to him right in the middle of class. And then the grumpy old teacher proceeds to make the scene whole by single-handedly creating one of the most successful and hilarious acts of humiliation in the history of cinema or anything. But I also think that Jeff's reaction to this action had something to do with it too.
Oh, I love the 80's. And "Fast Times" sums up why in 90 short but sweet minutes or pure bliss. It isn't a perfect film and I didn't absolutely adore it even with the apparent flaws (the laughs are often cheap but undeniably effective, it lacks solid character development), but it's good the music, the cars, the clothes, the people, and the overall feeling that evokes memories of the era that I'll never know or have. But from what I gather, these were wild times; fast times. And the title of the film does not only refer to the moment in time but also the speed at which events unfold within it. It's so darned fast-paced that it eventually comes to the point where it feels more like a drug than a movie. A drug with nudity, hot women, surfer dudes, and a particularly dark conclusion thrown in for good measure. You know the phrase "sex, drugs, and rock and roll"? Well, it applies to this movie perhaps more than any other. But the feature embraces its irreverent qualities and presents itself in free form. And that's precisely what I admire so much about it.
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