Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Year: 1982 | Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I, as a rule, do not like ’80s high school coming-of-age films. The Breakfast Club is one of my least favorite films of all time and I’ve found that a lot of these “Brat Pack” films do not age well at all and are unrelatable to most audiences who grew up in post-9/11 society, with their outdated social politics, idealism, and tone of wealthy white privilege. I’d always heard that Fast Times at Ridgemont High was an exception to this generalization, but given how often I’ve been burnt by “beloved” ’80s classics, I’ve always been hesitant to give it a chance.

Well, I was wrong. Fast Times is not a “Brat Pack” movie, and in fact, the only characteristics that it shares with those films are its setting and time period. Rather than glamorizing misogyny and hyper-masculinity like so many other films of this era, this film critiques and mocks those tendencies, even if it pulls some punches in doing so (a film made about these issues today, for example, would likely at least touch on why some high school boys act like complete buffoons and why some high school girls let them), which is a refreshing change of pace.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High screenshot

It could be argued, I suppose, that Fast Times handles some of the same issues as films like the aforementioned The Breakfast Club, but something about this film just feels so much more grounded in reality and less preachy and heavy-handed than the former. That can probably be attributed to the fact that this film is also less sanitized than most of the other coming-of-age teen flicks of the ’80s; I was not expecting a hard-R movie with full frontal nudity and copious profanity, but I think that the film feels more “real” because of those things and certainly would have suffered without them.

Light on plot and heavy on “vibes,” Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a film that has more in common with Dazed and Confused than Pretty in Pink, which makes it a rare ’80s high school movie that holds up in the context of the 21st century. I’m glad that after so many years, I finally gave this one a shot. It exceeded my admittedly low expectations.

Language: English
Genre: Comedy
Runtime: 1 hr. 30 min.
Rating: R

Director: Amy Heckerling
Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer

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