Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH"

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982)

Director: Amy Heckerling
Screenplay: Cameron Crowe based on his book




I think the best high school movies are not the ones that show the over-the-top journeys of a few drunk, stoned, and/or sex-crazed low life students going to have the defining life-changing moments with their best friend’s slutty mom or whatever, insignifcant pitiful high school goal they aim for.… but instead the better films are the ones that are more slice of life films, the ones that show just how nieve and stupid we were when we younger and how that influenced but didn’t necessarily defined our life. If you ask Freud, we have already had the experiences that will determine our value structure before high school; it’s what we do with it that matters. Saying that though, even among the great high school movies, there’s a different reaction when people start talking about “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” They don't talk  about how funny the film is, which it is, but there's some sense that this film may have been a little closer to the realities of high school than most people would like to admit. I don't think any two people will ever claim to have the same high school experiences, but only the shallowest of people would rank stupid stuff like "Porky's or "American Pie," as realistic. "Fast Times..." showed multiple different character, having multiple views and experiences on high school, and it's the first movie, that I can recall that did that, and got it all right. Maybe not all the details are believable, but the feeling of experiencing it, is dead-on.
This film does have it’s share of the previously aforementioned teenage archeatypes, and yes the eventual resolution involving Jeff Spicoli’s (A very young Sean Penn) continual bickering with his English teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) ends in a way that’s a little too absurd, but weren’t their many aspects of high school that were completely absurd? I mean one day, we're afraid of couties and the next day, you're fucking some guy in a Little League dugout; therein lies the balance between trying to be an adult and trying to remain a kid. Some balance it pretty well, like Mike (Robert Romanus), the movie theater usher who Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) can’t seem to get to make a move on her, no matter how hard she tries. Others goes so deep into adulthood they seem to be unable to grasp being a kid, like Stacy’s brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) who is hell-bent on getting and keeping a job no matter what. Why? Some misconception need to be a responsible adult, yet he’s unable to even talk to Linda (Phoebe Cates) Stacy's fried, who’s also gone way too far into adulthood in a different sort of way. The ones who act like kids still are the ones that the people we don’t see too much of. The one girl with the Pat Benatar haircut for instance, or the football player (A very young Forrest Whitaker) who goes on a tantrum after his car is totaled, but don’t worry Jeff can fix that, his father is a TV Repairman. Jeff is one who’s decided not to join the adults or the kids and has resorted to a constant altered state so he doesn't have to deal with the pressure of adulthood or childhood, or school, or anything really, not realizing that he is dealing with it, and considering, some of the others, he's not doing too bad.

It’s been reported Cameron Crowe actually disguised himself as a high school student before writing the book, and then the screenplay, which I think is true considering he graduate when he was 15 and was a Rolling Stone Reporter at 16.  He would be the one person, who can show a fresh perspective on high school, while creatively indelible human characters. One aspect of the film that isn’t discussed is that not all the characters know what’s going on with the other characters, even though most have some kind of affiliation with each other. No matter how hard we try not to, most high school kids will end up in groups of their own, and sit at the same lunchtable and do the same things as the kids they hang around with. The only other family member I even remember is Jeff's younger sister, who occasionally walks into his room, interrupting his next bong hit, or drug-infused dillusion. Frankly, her appearances say as much about Jeff as his behavior in the classroom as he and Mr. Hand's battle of wills.

Another oddity is how the character have complete, and yet the movie itself is completely episodic. Consider Rat's character (Brian Backer). He's Mike's so-called friend, who's always looking for some kind of angle. He scalps concert tickets, he probably sells drugs, he tries to teach Mike the skills to get laid, etc. He's one of most prominent character in the movie, and yet, he might be the least memorable. Part of it, is that there were better actors in some of the other roles, but his character doesn't have a good character arc. He's a douchebag in the beginning, he's a douchebad in the end. Even Spicoli, eventually learns about Cuba in the end, but he doesn't have a real character change. Strangely that isn't unbelievable or detrimental either. High school is really the mixing of people, and different kinds of people at that, coming together, maturing at different rates, making their own paths to make sense of the world around them. A lot of that means that you're gonna end up being around a bunch of people you never want to see again, and probably shouldn't, but that's an important experience as well. The more one dives in "Fast Times...", the more all-encompassing the movie actually becomes, and that's the main reason it remains relevant all these years later.    
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