Follows a group of high school students growing up in southern California, based on the real-life adventures chronicled by Cameron Crowe. Stacy Hamilton and Mark Ratner are looking for a love interest, and are helped along by their older classmates, Linda Barrett and Mike Damone, respectively. The center of the film is held by Jeff Spicoli, a perpetually stoned surfer dude who faces off with the resolute Mr. Hand, who is convinced that everyone is on dope. Written by
Rick Gregory <[email protected]>
: I was encouraged to see this because it was hailed as one of the best `teen comedies', a genre revived more recently by `American Pie'. This is an amusing but also touching tale of a bunch of teenagers caught between childhood and adulthood (as teenagers tend to be..).
The characters are, naturally, disparate (they always are). You've got the geek, the tender one, the surfing one, the `cool cat' one, et cetera. All these stock types can be bland but, when done well, really flesh out a movie. As in `American Pie', this is an example of the combination working to good effect. The issues dealt with, mild enough by today, were quite controversial for its time. They touch on concepts of underage sex, drugs, employment and so on and their relevance still resonates - despite its founding in 80s culture, the movie still has something to actually say. Cameron Crowe's script - based on his own book - is sharp. The characters actually have a depth (rather than being a one line joke as it is too often) and the humour is gentle, rather than of the bodily-fluid nature. The film is never preachy, merely saying, `This is how it is' and moving on. The structure is fairly conventional - follow a set of characters over a long period, and see how they fare in a final big event, but again that's okay.
Acting is quite good here, especially considering the genre. This is of course helped by some of these actors, such as Sean Penn and Nicholas Cage, having gone on to do bigger and better things with their talents. They all have a warmth and even Mike (Robert Romanus), who could appear sleazy if portrayed poorly, comes across as an ultimately affable man who is a good guy. The non-teen cast, principally the teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) are all good as well and the only problem I may have is the occasional eighties styling (principally the haircuts and outfits) which tend to make me feel one step removed from the characters (but that's not a fault of the actors).
`Fast Times at Ridgemont High' surprised me with its depth. I had expected farce, but I got some genuine thought and characterisation, along with the requisite humour. It's not quite the laugh-fest I expected but it was good viewing. It still has meaning for today, although time has dulled its sharpness somewhat. Not a must, but certainly - given its short length - a good maybe. 6.9/10.
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