A more quintessential high school film there isn’t. Fast Times at Ridgemont High became the very definition of a cultural icon, defining a generation and spawning a veritable ocean of imitators that continues to this day. Not only that, it kickstarted the careers of such reputable future names as Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, and Forest Whitaker (along with Nic Cage in a cameo role, credited under his original last name of Coppola). Pretty much any film that is remotely about high school since has had the label “Fast Times wannabe” thrown at it, but you know what? I think it’s time we really did have a modern day Fast Times, as the original has dated quite a bit.
The film follows a year in the lives of teenagers at the titular school, though most of what happens happens outside the confines of the campus, and we spend very little time inside the school itself (aside from Mr. Hand’s class). So, what does happen; what do teenagers of the late-70s/early-80s do and talk about? As it turns out, not very much; sex, boys/girls, more sex, romance, how to win a partner, and oh yeah, lots of sex. Now, this isn’t to dog on the film too much; it’s based on Cameron Crowe’s book, which he wrote after going undercover in a real high school for a year to see what teenagers were really like, so really, the film’s shortcomings and one-note story are just the shortcomings and story of what teens were really like then (and, in many ways, now). Still, I’d been expecting something that was really going to resonate and, well, like I put it in the opener, define a generation, and this was what I got. If this really is defining the generation it holds a microscope to, then I’d have to ask the question: why was this generation worth holding a microscope up to in the first place? I do understand that a large part of it is the fact that I was not even born yet when this film was made, let alone live through the times it depicts, so I can’t really fully understand the nostalgia factor that goes into enjoying a film like this. But, that doesn’t ignore one of my main facets about worthwhile entertainment (and, incidentally, comedy); it should be timeless, and banking on present-moment references and the nostalgia factor does not a film for all time make.
Even with all I’ve said decrying what this film does do, it was still moderately entertaining. Much of it was undoubtedly because it was so short, and I’d have to throw in a few mentions to the soundtrack and the acting as well. Still, it was empty entertainment, the kind that I’d forget and move on from within a week; it was eating something full of sugar and/or salt and pretending it was actually filling me up with nutrition. I can’t really fault the film (or the book) for it; any attempt to create a picture of a generation is bound to be so full of everything that made that generation memorable to the people that lived through it that there’s no way the film won’t come off as dated a decade or two down the line. This might’ve been important at one point, and even well-regarded from the teens of the era, but if you’re looking for something like that for the here and now, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the wrong product for you to sell, or buy.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10