Based on screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s novel of the same name, Fast Times at Ridgemont High told the story of several teens navigating the difficult waters of love during their time in the fictional community of Ridgemont. Thanks to a memorable cast, including a show-stealing performance by a young Sean Penn, this 1982 comedy remains one of the most fondly-remembered teen films of all time.
Although Nicholas Cage (credited for the first and only time as Nicholas Coppola) appears briefly in the film, the principal cast includes Jennifer Jason Leigh (Stacy Hamilton), Robert Romanus (Mike Damone), Brian Backer (Mark ‘Rat’ Ratner), Phoebe Cates (Linda Barrett), and Judge Reinhold (Brad Hamilton). Of course, the character most prominently identified with the film is Sean Penn’s perpetually-stoned surfer Jeff Spicoli, whose bouts with totalitarian teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) are among the most famous scenes in teenybopper film history.
The film tracks the lives of these students as summer comes to a close and school begins. Stacy and Linda work in a mall pizzeria near the theater where Mark works as assistant to the assistant manager. Shy and smitten with Stacy, Mark finally asks her out and she agrees. Concerned about his lack of carnal knowledge, Mark turns to his wise and worldly friend Mike who counsels him in the ways of women.
Meanwhile, Stacy’s brother Brad pursues his options as he works at a burger joint. Sweet-souled surfer Spicoli unwittingly torments Mr. Hand with his constant truancy and laid back attitude, which threatens to hold him back from a passing grade.
Upon it’s release in 1982, and despite the film’s R-rating, teenagers turned out in droves to see the high school film everyone was talking about. While $27 million may not sound exactly like a box-office bonanza, especially today, it still equaled six times the film’s modest budget. Crowe received a WGA award for the writing and much of Fast Times at Ridgemont High has become the stuff of pop culture history. Among the many scenes, none seems to have enjoyed the parody/homage legacy of the fantasy sequence in which Phoebe Cates emerges from the swimming pool and removes her bright red bikini top.
Filmed in California’s San Fernando Valley, the film has come to symbolize– for better or worse– the Californian youth culture of that time, and is the cream of the crop of high school films. If you count Fast Times at Ridgemont High as one of your favorites, we hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts in our comments section.