Quick thoughts about Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Just picked it up used for $6 and saw it probably for the first time uncensored. I'd only seen it before on TV. The movie was directed by Amy Heckerling, who also directed Clueless. See my review of that movie here. I can't help but compare them because they're among only a handful of teen movies that don't suck (like all those "I hate my parents" movies that John Hughes made).
At the same time, Fast Times was made in 1982, while Clueless came out in 1995 -- and what a change society had undergone in the meantime. Crime was plummeting, young people were increasingly less promiscuous, and there was no more raw and wild-sounding rock music that spurred kids to go out and get into trouble. (Rather, it encouraged them to cry in their room.) So, a few brief thoughts:
- Like the movie Metropolitan, there are no parents anywhere in Fast Times. They're not even driving the plot from afar, as in The Breakfast Club or any other bad teen movie. Young people live in their own world, and recruit allies and compete with enemies from their own age group. I know it's totally obvious, but for some reason when adults portray the lives of young people, everything has to do with parent-offspring conflict. Not that that's not there -- but get real.
- Both Clueless and Fast Times do a good job at capturing the larger zeitgeist. For example, there is much more teenage sex, drug use, and violence in Fast Times, while Clueless reflects the civilizing process of the 1990s that reversed those trends. Also, all the teenagers in Fast Times have jobs, while none of them do in Clueless -- and not just because they're more well-to-do in the latter. The characters in other recent teen movies like American Pie, which don't feature rich kids, don't have jobs either. Young people grow up much more slowly now than as recently as the 1980s.
- Related to the above, society was more accepting of the sexuality of young girls. The classic shot of Phoebe Cates removing her bikini top features an 18 or 19 year-old girl, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who we see topless twice and fully nude once (appearing in two simulated sex scenes) was 20. Near the beginning, we see the two female leads practicing their blowjob techniques on carrots in the middle of the school's cafeteria. People were also more accepting of age disparities in relationships, since Phoebe Cates' character is always trying to find older guys who aren't immature like high school boys. At the end of the movie, we're told that already in her freshman year of college she's started living with her abnormal psych professor.
- The mall culture that once played such a central role in young people's social lives is basically dead. Teen movies from the early '80s focus a lot on the mall because that's where everyone congregated -- it was overrun with teenage mall rats. Clueless shows that by 1995, it wasn't so important, and that malls had become more emptied of young people. Now when you go to malls, it's mostly for 25+ adults or their infant children. Mean Girls in 2004 has a few good scenes in a mall, but it is anachronistic by that point -- Tina Fey was projecting her own adolescence onto contemporary teenagers' lives. (Here's my review of Mean Girls.)
- When Stacy and Mark go on a date, what does the high school girl order? Skinless chicken breasts? Pasta and breadsticks? No -- she orders knockwurst! All of the rest of their meal consists mostly of dead animals too. Remember, it was 1982, so the transition to the fat-phobic, carboholic diet of today was only partly done, and people still weren't totally convinced of what the experts were recommending.
- In general, the movie isn't overly sentimental, melodramatic, absurdist, or goofy -- a rare thing for a teen movie. It's not cluelessly sanguine either. Stacy gives it up easily to two guys, and we see how much she regrets it: the first time, the camera shows how unromantic the location is (a graffiti-tagged baseball dugout), and the second time, we see her exposed body while the guy promptly puts on his clothes and ditches her. Her relationship after being with Damone extends only to negotiating how much each will pay for her abortion (even then, he doesn't pay his part and doesn't drive her to the clinic as he'd promised).
- Obviously the music is better than in any other teen movie since it was made when New Wave was popular on MTV. In fact, the only good song in 1995's Clueless is "Kids in America," a New Wave hit from 1981. I felt like Fast Times could have used "Johnny Are You Queer" after Mark neurotically abandons his make-out session with Stacy, but maybe that would have been laying it on too thick. The frustrated and almost disgusted look in Stacy's eyes would have fit perfectly with the song, though.
Anyway, probably more to say, but that's what jumped out at me. If you haven't seen it in awhile, it's definitely worth renting or buying if you can find it cheap.