Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a very pleasant movie to watch. It’s not terribly good or enjoyable, but you can put it on and relax as it’s not going to challenge you and it doesn’t have the capacity to offend. It’s simple-minded and just wants to entertain. Sometimes, these kind of movies are fun to watch, as they can allow you some time to relax after a stressful day. It will allow you to reflect upon your days in high school, or if you’re still in it, it’ll make you think about the last few days, that one teacher you hate, or the crush you never had the courage to ask out. Okay, so maybe it might get you riled up, but it’s not from its content.
Okay, so it’s also kind of vulgar and there are a few moments that will make you wince, but compared to many other movies, it’s pretty tame. It’s a teen movie, after all, and those aren’t exactly going to be about much more than teenage life. This one appreciates its subject matter, and doesn’t demean it, which is a point in its favor. It features real people for characters, and doesn’t often take clichéd routes. For the most part, it’s a good movie, and it’s an easy watch.
While this isn’t an ensemble film, there are a bunch of colorful characters that will take you about half the film to get used to seeing. I’m thinking that the lead is a young girl named Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), if only because she gets a lot of time on-screen. I don’t know if it’s the most out of all the characters, but it seemed like it to me. Maybe it’s just because of how sweet and energetic Leigh was in the role.
The film takes place over the course of an entire year of high school. For some, it’s the final year, while for others, it’s the first or second. Some, like Mike (Robert Romanus), are just trying to find a girl, while others, like Jeff (Sean Penn), have been perpetually stoned since the third grade, and just want to pass. Stacy is trying to learn the ways of the boys, figuring out what they want in a partner, and essentially going through a coming-of-age sort of story arc. Some characters just seem to exist, not going through much of a story of their own, but interjecting in other characters’ stories.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is basically exactly what you’re going to expect out of an ’80s teen movie. It’s a good one, sure, but it’s not out to bend the rules or change things around. The one thing it does differently is that it actually respects its subject matter — the teens at hand — and that helps it break away from the pack a bit. It’s enjoyable largely because of that, and because it’s such an easy watch.
The only adult in the film with a significant amount of screen time is a teacher named Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), who doesn’t take flack from anyone. He doesn’t allow eating in his classroom, he hates it when people are late, and so on. His foil is Jeff, the stoner, and the two engage in a series of skits, serving mainly as comic relief. Granted, they take a little bit away from the rest of the film as they don’t fit tonally, but I appreciated them because they made me laugh and because it’s always fun to see a clash of personalities.
I liked how all of the characters in this film felt real. They didn’t feel like movie people, or like they had been written to act a certain way. Instead, they were like the people you might have gone to school with. Sure, they all have to posses a distinct personality so that there isn’t any repeat, but they all feel natural and organic. I enjoyed just seeing how they’d react to certain circumstances, and they never appeared to do something just for the sake of moving the plot forward.
When the film falters, it’s because there are points in which not a whole lot happens. It gets dull every now and then, and when your film is only 90 minutes long in the first place, this is inexcusable. There are a couple of scenes that felt like repeats, a few times in which the characters all seemed bored and uninspired, and it seemed like a bit more trimming would have been to Fast Times at Ridgemont High‘s benefit. But, then, high school is like that sometimes, right?
Most of the actors either are convincing or energetic enough to make us not care. The main actors are all older than the 15-18 range that they’re playing, but that’s typical for Hollywood. We believe that most of them are teenagers, and because the Cameron Crowe’s script is so believable, there isn’t a lot of stretching to do. Crowe went undercover at a high school and wrote about his experiences there, and the film is based on those. I suppose that might be why it comes across as much more appreciative of its subject matter than a lot of these other types of movies.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a very easy watch, one that has difficulty riling anyone up. You can put it on and shut off your brain, enjoying it for the simple experience that it is. It has a fun cast of characters, it treats everyone with respect, and it rises above a lot of other teen flicks as a result. It could have done with tighter editing and possibly the removal of one or two goofy skits, but on the whole, it’s a fun and easy watch.