Sunday 2 December 2007

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) Amy Heckerling

When you have a cast that includes people like Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold and Phoebe Cates and none of their names appear before the title, you know this is old. There are even three Oscar winners, Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker and Nicolas Cage (still Nicolas Coppola here) and at least one Golden Globe winner, Anthony Edwards, along with such highly recognisable people like Vincent Schiavelli, Eric Stoltz and James Russo. The thing is that most of these people were nobodies in 1982, including director Amy Heckerling and screenwriter Cameron Crowe, who also wrote the source novel.

There's not really much of a plot, because it's just a slice of life of high school and mall life in the early eighties. I'm a few years too young and from a different nationality to really fit the time and place but I do get most of it, especially as my better half fits both precisely. She was sixteen in 1982 so knows this film, its soundtrack, its actors and everything else about it. For all the things that go on it, she either lived them or knows people who did, just like everyone else in high school in America at that time.

The film runs pretty smoothly, hardly surprising given the talents involved, but it does seem effortless for something that serves as the definition of an entire decade. In every way it's to the 80s what National Lampoon's Animal House was to the 70s. For a film that appears on Premiere's list of the 100 Movies That Shook the World it seems a little non-worldshaking but that's entirely due to the huge influence it had. Without this film there couldn't have been most of what the rest of the decade brought. Could there have been a Bill and Ted without Sean Penn in this movie? Could there have been any of the teen sex films that permeated the decade without this? I'd guess that many of the films made today owe a huge debt to this one.

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