Probably the most raw and unfiltered high school movie ever, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is an honest, hilarious look into teen life in the 1980s. It honestly feels more like a documentary of life at a high school than a film set at a high school. Where other teen comedies over-exaggerate sex, drugs and the struggles of achieving and maintaining popularity, Fast Times just gives us honest, confident, likable characters, each dealing with their own bullshit. They don’t care about being popular or getting a date to the big dance, all they want is to get through school, get through their night shift at the mall without getting yelled at, and maybe make out on the weekend. Don’t we all?
The film’s central character is Stacy Hamilton, a freshman at Ridgemont who is really starting to notice and get noticed by the opposite sex. She works with Linda Barrett, an older, popular student who takes Stacy under her wing and feeds her advice on dealing with older men and how to give a proper blowjob. Stacy’s older brother is Brad, a popular senior jumping from job-to-job to pay off his beloved car. Stacy’s being pursued by Mark Ratner, a timid but friendly teen who works at the movie theater on the other side of the mall. Ratner’s best bud is Mike Damone, a confident, fashion-conscious concert ticket huckster who swoops in and wins Stacy’s affections. And lurking in the corners is Jeff Spicoli, a lazy, unconcerned, high-as-a-kite surfer bum who’s just looking for a good time.
We see each of these characters get their proper screen time but Stacy is really the heart and emotional core of the movie. She lies to a 26-year-old stereo manager about being 19 and has sex with him at a run-down, hookup spot known as the point. It’s a creepy (and an illegal) interaction, where the 26-year-old clearly has much more power and influence over Stacy with his more “mature” status. Later on, Stacy and Mike Damone hook up in her parent’s pool house. Stacy gets pregnant from the encounter and gets an abortion. She then realizes that what she wants aren’t random hookups but true romance and takes back the soft-spoken Mark.
The film doesn’t cast judgement on Stacy or condescend to her for these encounters, it doesn’t paint her naive or stupid, nor does it hold her hand thinking she’s too dumb to deal with the fallout of these problems. The movie just depicts the situations as they happen, and we watch her grow and adapt throughout. Director Amy Heckerling doesn’t really use any complicated or elaborate shots, the camera just feels more as another high school student depicting this as it’s happening. It isn’t accidental that Fast Times feels so raw: Cameron Crowe wrote the novel the film’s based off of and crafted the screenplay for the movie as well. Crowe knows just how to paint these characters perfectly and show us what motivates them.
It’s strange that Fast Times feels more accessible having come out in the eighties than say American Pie, which is more recent but still feels very much a nineties movie. Even with its eighties soundtrack and extras cosplaying as Pat Benatar, Fast Times resonates so much to us, even in the social media age, because it breaks down the barrier of so many common high school tropes. Sometimes the boys aren’t afraid to pursue the girls, and sometimes the girls aren’t afraid to go after the boys first. Sometimes messy situations happen that aren’t really anybody’s fault. Sometimes a cooler older student is willing to be friends with a younger pipsqueak, and sometimes kids will actually need money to buy the things they want, and will have to work retail and fast food jobs to pay for those. And Fast Times delivers to us the audience exactly what Spiccoli wanted the whole time: some rocking tunes and some good vibes.