In the interview he did with us this week, Teen Movie Hell author Mike “McBeardo” McPadden said that “All previous teen comedies lead to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and all subsequent teen comedies have proceeded forth from it.”
In his 1981 book, future director Cameron Crowe went undercover at Clairemont High School in San Diego and wrote about his real-life experiences. Directed by Amy Heckerling (Clueless, the Look Who’s Talking series, Johnny Dangerously and National Lampoon’s European Vacation), this movie follows the book and expands on it.
Interestingly enough, Mark Ratner in this film was modeled on a kid named Andy Rathbone, who claims that he actually did a lot of the Spicoli cool things too. He had become friends with Cameron and didn’t realize he was being lied to and ended up pretty hurt by the experience. But don’t feel too bad for him. He went on to write the For Dummies books, so he ended up doing pretty well for himself.
This is a film made up of characters and the way they intersect from the end of summer, the high school year and into the next summer. That’s really the story arch of the film, which allows the characters to breathe and come into their own.
Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) starts the year as one of the most popular seniors at Ridgemont High School. Next year seems set: he’s a multiple time employee of the month at All-American Burger, he’s breaking up with his girlfriend Lisa (Amanda Wyss) so that he can be eligible all year long and his car is nearly paid off. It all falls apart: he gets fired for yelling at an abusive customer, Lisa breaks up with him before he can, he gets a job at Captain Hook Fish & Chips where he’s forced to wear a humiliating outfit and worst of all, he’s caught masturbating by his sister’s best friend Linda (the bewitching Phoebe Cates).
His sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) may have an even rougher year: other than her job at the Perry’s Pizza (Leigh actually did work at a Perry’s Pizza for a month before filming began) at the mall, her biggest job seems to be losing her virginity, which she finally does with stereo salesman Ron Johnson, who she tells that she’s 19 (she’s 15 and he’s 26). Their baseball dugout sex is boring and she tries to find love afterward with Mark Ratner, who works at the movie theater at the mall. However, his best friend Damone the ticket scalper ends up trying to steal her away, getting her pregnant, which nice guy Mark ends up helping her take care of. Damone is a total scumbag, but it’s interesting to me that Cameron put the words of his friend Glen Frey into his mouth when he discusses Stacy not seeing anything in Mark: “If this girl can’t smell your qualifications, then who needs her?”
Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) is a surfer who is bold enough to order a pizza to his history class, a fact that does little to endear him to Mr. Hand (Ray Walston). He also ends up wrecking star football player Charles Jefferson’s (Forest Whitaker) Camaro, but his writing racial slurs all over it and blaming the school’s rival Lincoln High ends up leading Jefferson to his best game ever. On the night of prom, Mr. Hand keeps Spicoli in his room, forcing him to pay back the eight hours of class time that he wasted with a one-on-one lesson.
There are tons of little cameos as we amble to the conclusion. This is one of Nicholas Cage’s first films, as he’s one of Spicoli’s stoner buds, as are Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards. Pamela Springsteen — Angela Baker herself — shows up, as does Kelli Maroney (Chopping Mall, Night of the Comet), Vincent Schiavelli as teacher Mr. Vargas and Lana Clarkson (Barbarian Queen and future Phil Spector victim) as his beyond hot wife.
Everything ends up pretty good for all concerned: Mark and Stacy are having a passionate love affair (but haven’t gone all the way yet) while he makes up with Damone, who gets arrested for scalping. Brad gets a job at a convenience store and is promoted to manager after he and Spicoli foil a robbery. Speaking of that iconic character, he saves Brooke Shields from drowning and spends the reward getting Van Halen to play his birthday party. Linda moves in with her Abnormal Psychology professor at UC Riverside. And Mr. Hand still thinks everyone is on dope.
If you were 12 in 1984, like I was, the scene where Phoebe Cates appears rising from the pool changed your life. It’s the kind of cultural connection that kids today will never have. Judge Reinhold brought a large dildo to play with for this scene, which Cates didn’t know about until she saw it. That’s why her look of horror is so honest.
The other star of this film is the Sherman Oaks Galleria, the mall that contains much of the action. This is the mall where Moon Unit Zappa would invent the term valley girl for her song with her father, which led to the movie Valley Girl, which was also filmed in this mall. Other movies that use this location include the aforementioned Chopping Mall and Night of the Comet (which means that Kelli Maroney spent plenty of time at the Galleria), as well as Commando, Back to the Future Part II, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge and Innerspace.
If you haven’t seen this movie, you really need to get off the internet and fix that. It really holds up and also rewards multiple viewings.