The dog days of summer are upon us. It’s August, and that means back to school for some and the vacations are mostly over for the families who have been basking in the glorious summer sun (though I look forward personally to some more reasonable temperatures. . . we pasty-skinned Brits burn just embarrassingly easily). Yes, August is the one month pretty much everyone aged 10 – 22 sort of thinks is a major buzzkill. But it’s not all bad news, when you think of some of the good old back-to-school (or even just school-related) flicks that have graced our screens over the years. Though they all pretty much boil down to the typical coming-of-age tale, who’s to say that’s not perfectly acceptable escapism from what really lies around the corner. . . . ?
Today’s food for thought: Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Hanging with Mr. Hand after hours since: August 13, 1982
Oh, to be young and Spicoli again.
I wonder if that’s what Sean Penn thinks every time he glances back on this role (I don’t know what says he does, but humor me for a second, would ya?). . . .if he thinks this role in particular was his true blue Oscar. Truth be told, it is actually difficult picturing a stoner role landing the big whale in February but if there ever were a person. . .a character who came close, I’d say it’d be Penn’s righteously blown-out pot-smoking slacker.
No doubt he’s a highlight, but fortunately Penn’s representative of only one portion of the total population. Granted, his clique might be one of the more amusing and entertaining to hang with, but it’s a credit to the considerations of writer Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling (Clueless) that the story is filled with so much more, so many more different avenues that collectively create the high school experience. Sure, the decades have changed, but we all know the biggest thing that has affected is the hairstyles.
There’s something deeply true and honest about this immersive experience, something that goes beyond the dynamite chemistry between the vacuous Spicoli and the dreaded English teacher, Mr. Hand. In fact, I’ve got you covered. Here are (the) five reasons this classic is already in your collection (and if it isn’t, well then you’ve got your next project to work on. Rent it, and pronto Tonto!) . . . because, well, let’s face it. Not only are these five images amazing moments from the film, they do quite a thorough job pinning the high school population down to its core groups:
Spicoli vs Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) These two have a very special relationship. Spicoli is not only one of Ridgemont’s most notorious pot-heads, he’s always late to class, a fact that never sits well with the disciplinarian Mr. Hand. Love ’em, hate ’em, but you just can’t get rid of ’em — the lazy student who always provides the rest of the class entertainment with his combative form of self-expression, and the teacher who is seemingly out to get everyone and make the semester hell. They make an entertaining combo for the film as well as prove to be a compelling example of teacher doing his job, while World’s Worst student learns the same about him. There’s beauty in the mutual respect they end up stumbling upon.
Quoted: “You dick!”
Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) vs Unplanned Pregnancy Everyone knows a Damone — a lone wolf, the tough guy in the crowd. . .and, okay, so the one you know may not scalp movie tickets but this guy you know has similar schemes. He’s mostly a decent guy who has been endowed with the gift of gab and as such, fancies himself a ladies’ man. A bit misled, sure, but his constant confidence makes you feel good about not only yourself but the times you spend with him. However, is this the kind of dude who sticks around for the harder times? Is there more underneath, or is this just what you get — just a good-looking façade?
Quoted: “I mean, don’t just walk in. You move across the room. And you don’t talk to her. You use your face. You use your body. You use everything. That’s what I do. I mean I just send out this vibe and I have personally found that women do respond. I mean, something happens.”
Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker) vs the Lincoln High football squad After Spicoli wrecks the crap out of Ridgemont’s star athlete’s beautiful Camaro during a joy ride, it’s all Spicoli can do to hide the fact it was him responsible, so in a panic he disguises the accident as an intentional act on the part of a rivaling high school football team. This causes Charles to fly into a rage, injuring several players in their next game in the process. True, there may be some sort of personality lurking deep inside, but you best not come across this jock after his most valuable possession has just been destroyed. We all have that special thing we can’t afford to lose. For most of us, though, that ain’t a Z-28.
Quoted: [forget the quote. Watch this clip.]
Brad vs. Linda in Stacy’s bathroom Poor Brad’s had a heck of a senior year. Lost his job because of an obnoxious customer. Lost his second job because they made him wear a pirate costume (and also deal with obnoxious customers). Lost his girlfriend Lisa in the crossfire, and when he gets caught, shall we say. . . sorting something out in the bathroom at Stacy’s, he essentially loses his pride. But Brad’s not a bad guy, he’s just going through a rough phase and wants out of it, now. Who can’t identify with this feeling?
Quoted: “Mister, if you don’t shut up, I’m going to kick one hundred percent of your ass!”
Mark (Brian Backer) /Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) vs Sexual Tension Without a doubt, here’s the pair that come the closest to anchoring the romantic component of those four angst-y, awkward years. Neither Mark nor Stacy have much of a clue when it comes to dating and romance, so when their respective friends Damone and Linda give them a few pointers, all bets are off when it comes down to taking friendly advice or doing what they both feel is the natural thing to do. They’re both sweet and charming and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can’t find something of their self in these two lovebirds.
Quoted: “You know Damone I always stick up for you. They say oh, Damone that loud mouth — and they say that a lot. I say ‘Oh, no you just don’t know Damone.’ I mean when they call you an idiot, I say Damone’s not an idiot. Well, you know something maybe they know you pretty good. Maybe I’m just starting to find out.”
Recommendation: Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a staple of the early ’80s. While it hardly breaks free of its fair share of era clichés (well, I guess they’re more like stereotypes at this point), this fast-paced ride sheds light on all corners of the high school experience, carrying an optimistic and truly fantastic energy from start to finish, much in the same vein as The Breakfast Club, Dazed and Confused along with a handful of other lesser-known silver screen signets now owned on home video by millions of children of the ’70s and ’80s. I’m going to sound like a very broken record, but they just don’t seem to make comedies (or movies in general) like this anymore. And at the very bare minimum, see this one for one of Sean Penn’s greatest performances ever in his break-out role as Spicoli. You (probably) won’t be sorry.
Running Time: 90 mins.
TBTrivia: Phoebe Cates’ reaction face in the above image is very, very real and natural. Fortunately, the thing she is reacting to is not. . .so much. . . .
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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com