Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling joined forces in the early 80s to bring forth one of the most earnest looks at teen life ever put to screen in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, based on Crowe’s book of the same name. Hughes gave us high school through rose-tinted glasses, and throughout the 90s and into the new millennium, we are, with few exceptions, get over-exaggerated idealistic characterizations, tinting those glasses even rosier. Jocks with hearts of gold, geeks getting the girl, plain Jane taking down the popular cliques. Crazy sex-pacts, raging parties and perfect proms.
But not Fast Times. Ultimately it isn’t really about anything. No unifying narrative goal ties the film together. Everybody doesn’t meet in the end for a big hug. We get the opportunity to follow a group of people for a whole year at high school as they deal with douchebag friends, teen pregnancies, overbearing teachers, shitty jobs and everything else the teen years decide to throw at us.
It was daring in its approach to teenage sex, by presenting it and accepting it as a given. It explored the consequences of those actions, but never demonized the actions, which makes it outstanding in its genre. No film geared towards the contemporary youth broached the topic of abortion with such sincerity. There was no redemption for Damone, the guy who skipped out on his responsibilities to Stacey Hamilton after he got her pregnant, and was ultimately a scumbag to his only friend Mark.
As a 22-year-old, Cameron Crowe went undercover as a high school student to write his story. He knew he’d never get an honest answer by just asking questions, so he lived and existed among them, listened to their conversations, went to their get-togethers. And that’s how we got some of the more interesting characters put together that weave a rich tapestry of high school experiences. And if it weren’t for the talented young cast that included Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, with early appearances from Anthony Edwards, Forest Whitaker, Nicolas Cage and Eric Stoltz, the would not have endured through the years.
The John Hughes flicks are great, but if you want a great 80s teen flick, the best of the era… you’ve found it in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.