“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982) is a pop-culture sacred cow that needs to be skewered. I’d rate it a 2 out of 10 for being a surprisingly inept and poorly scripted 1980’s “classic.”
I just don’t understand the fervent popular reverence for this movie among people in my age bracket. It was a minor legend when I was growing up. I was a fourth grader in 1982, and gradeschool boys could be divided into two groups: 1) those who had seen the “Phoebe Cates pool scene” and 2) those who had not, but wished they had. When I mentioned on social media a couple of months ago this year that I’d never actually gotten around to seeing this movie, my friends were roundly astonished.
Why do they think this film is indispensable viewing? Maybe there’s something I’m missing. I’m tempted to group “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” together with other beloved 80’s films that just don’t resonate with me — like the understandably campy “Tron” (1982) or the unexpectedly sleep-inducing “The Big Chill” (1983). (I couldn’t even finish the latter.) But I can’t compare, because I know those movies are objectively good in a lot of ways, even if they weren’t to my taste.
Nor am I squeamish about raunchy sex comedies. (C’mon.) I pretty fondly remember “Porky’s” (1981), “Porky’s II: The Next Day” (1983), and “Revenge of the Nerds” (1984). I mentioned “Porky’s” to the friend with whom I watched “Fast Times” — I told her that it wasn’t highbrow entertainment, but I still remember it being crudely, blasphemously funny.
This movie was just a thinly scripted small collection of vignettes, with no overall plot outside of teenagers having sexual encounters that are … awkward and bluntly sad, for the most part. (Sean Penn’s character does drugs.) The dialogue is terrible. None of the characters are likable — even the story’s nerdy, well-meaning protagonist is grating.
I didn’t really laugh once at anything the director intended — I only laughed at the haircuts and the clothes. I just can’t believe that the screenwriter here was Cameron Crowe, who also wrote what is possibly my favorite movie of all time — the widely but unfairly maligned “Vanilla Sky” (2001). (Crowe apparently adapted the screenplay from a novel he wrote.)
There is some enjoyment to be had in watching Penn’s stoner character. It was fun seeing a well known serious actor in an early comedic role. Penn is a decent character actor, and it looks like he was having fun. I do get why kids in the 80’s found him funny.
It’s also fun seeing the handful of other young actors who would go on to great careers (Judge Reinhold is always funny) but, again, this is something that the filmmakers can’t take credit for.
Hey, if you want a slice-of-life dramatic comedy about teenagers in the 1980’s, then go rent “The Breakfast Club” (1985). It wasn’t perfect, but it was damn good movie that tackled many of the same issues as this movie, but with intelligence and effective humor. Or, try the oddball “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986). Both movies portray teenagers in the 80’s who are smart, likable and emphathetic, in varying degrees. I myself went to high school in the 1980’s, and I assure you they were around.