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  Fast Times at Ridgemont High No Good Advice
Year: 1982
Director: Amy Heckerling
Stars: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston, Scott Thomson, Vincent Schiavelli, Amanda Wyss, D.W. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Kelli Maroney, Tom Nolan, Eric Stoltz, James Russo, Anthony Edwards
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: Tomorrow is the end of the summer holidays and the first day of school for the students of Ridgemont High, and that includes those who work at the local mall. Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works in a restaurant there with her best friend Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates), and is embarrassed about how inexperienced she is compared to the more worldly Linda. When a handsome man enters the restaurant, Stacy is encouraged to go over and chat him up, but it's he who asks for her phone number. Meanwhile, the boy who has a crush on Stacy, Mark "Rat" Ratner (Brian Backer) is sick of his cinema usher job, though his friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) has advice for him...

But never mind about them, because the star who steals the show is Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli, the stoned surfer (who we never see do any surfing) and rebel without a clue. It's remarkable the number of future celebritries who appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High: from the leading roles to the support there are famous faces to spot, including a seventeen-year-old Nicolas Cage in a bit part. And the film quickly gained a reputation for being the quintessential eighties teen movie, perhaps more so than the John Hughes efforts, mainly because of a script written by a certain Cameron Crowe before he opted to take over directorial duties himself.

It was Amy Heckerling who was directing her first feature here, however, beginning a career of crowd pleasers from this until Clueless over a decade later. She showed an understanding of what made Crowe's writing tick, perhaps more so than Crowe, whose script quickly became movie cliché. Which was surprising due to his insistence on basing it on real events, for what he had done to research the book this was based on was to go undercover at a high school and mingle with the students so he could write a form of expose on the truth about their lives, truth that couldn't have come as much of a shock to many people.

Fortunately, sparkling performances brought out the humour for what was actually a very cynical tale - up to the happy ending at any rate. Yes, even Jennifer Jason Leigh was bright as a button here, as the girl whose yearning to live up to the expectations of her best friend (who, it is implied, might not be entirely sure of what she's talking about) lead her to lose her virginity in a squalid baseball park with a man ten years older than her, and eventually fall pregnant by the sleazy (but oddly, not entirely unsympathetic) Damone when she should have been with Rat. Rat, of course, was following Damone's instructions but copped out at the last moment when his chance with Stacy arrived.

There is light to go along with that dark, and it's Penn's sparring with his teacher nemesis Mr Hand (Ray Walston, equally excellent) that provides a good deal of the laughs. Spicoli is penalised for turning up late on his first day, but gets his goodnatured revenge by ordering pizza in class. Crucially, there's nothing vindictive about Spicoli's antics, even when he crashes the car of the one football player you don't mess with (Forest Whitaker) it's out of blatant stupidity rather than malice. Complementing this storyline is the one with Stacy's brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) who is all set for the best year of his life only to suffer indignity after indignity: he loses his job, his girlfriend splits up with him, he gets caught masturbating by the object of his fantasies, and so forth. You feel sorry for the guy, but it is funny. And that's possibly what makes Fast Times succeed, there's not one bad person amongst them; misguided certainly, but Crowe and Heckerling can't prevent a sentimental note being sounded by the close.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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