In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “A modern classic in a genre that is so easy to dismiss because so much deserves dismissal.”
“All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”
Teen movies generally have a pretty short shelf life. They’re normally so of the moment and so concerned with what’s cool then, that they date themselves while they’re still playing in theatres. But there are a few great teen movies that still hold up decades later, and not just nostalgically for the people who saw it at the time, but for new generations as well. These teen movies live on because they tackle universal, timeless issues that effected teens then, now and forever. Movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Following a school year in the life of half a dozen or so school kids, Fast Times covers all the obvious character bases. There’s Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Linda (Phoebe Cates) the two hot girls obsessed with growing up as fast as they can. Brad (Judge Reinhold), the goofy older brother trying to figure out what life will mean from outside of high school next year. Mark (Brian Backer) and Mike (Robert Romanus), the two dweebs who want to be cooler than they are. Charles (Forest Whitaker) the jock, and Spicoli (Sean Penn) the stoner. Those descriptions are clichéd, I know. But part of the genius of this movie its ability to start with clichés, then flesh them all out in believable, real ways.
There are over arching stories and most characters have some sort of goal, or thematic structure driving their story, but this isn’t a standard three act story. It’s a little more like real life, when people go from one thing to the next, and just try to figure it out as they go. No clear or tidy narrative, or neat conclusion to their stories. It’s a series of life slices, picking up and putting down characters as their believable mundane lives have little spikes if action, incident and drama.
Whenever Fast Times at Ridgemont High gets talked about today, there are two things that usually get mentioned. One is the fact that an adult Cameron Crowe went back to high school and posed as a teenager to research and write the book that this movie would be based on. The other is Sean Penn’s portrayal of Jeff Spicoli. Both of these are pretty cool, but both are far from what makes this movie great. Amy Heckerling, in her first at bat as director, gives Fast Times so much life, that she deserves just as much credit as Crowe and his screenplay. And while Spicoli is a funny enough distraction, he’s the most one dimensional and least interesting character in the movie. Yet the cover art and posters for this ensemble piece are always a big ol’ photo of Spicoli.
But none of that really matters, because whatever keeps people talking about this movie is a good thing, as it means more people will see it. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a modern classic in a genre that is so easy to dismiss because so much of it deserves dismissal. But when done well, even something as usually disposable as a teen sex comedy can be great. Also, did I mention it’s really, really, really funny?