Fast Times at Ridgemont High Hits 35
Updated: Sep 3
Our story opens in a well-known forum of societal hierarchy, of peacock-esque competition, of mating rituals and couplings: the mall. Shopping malls were at the height of their economic boom during the 80’s, proving to be a community hot spot, typically for the adolescent. I can think of no better place than the mall, to establish our characters before we embark on their tale of sex, drugs, and the sometimes-harrowing repercussions of irrational thinking due to underdeveloped frontal lobes. Returning to this classic after years of personal growth and understanding between viewings, I might re-dub this flick, having once considered it a comical guide, now into a compressed cautionary tale. Don’t get me wrong, I still find it funny.
Stacy Hamilton is a bright-eyed teen preparing to enter into her first year of high school, and boy is she in for a doozy of a semester. Sexually woke and confused, she dives head first into the dating pool by chatting up a guy, twelve years her senior. Having been ushered in by her sensual spirit guide, Linda Barrett, (played by 80’s babe Phoebe Cates), she lies to the 27-year-old, stating that she’s 19 while he places an order for a soda (and her number) at her food court mall job. Bada-bing bada-boom, next thing you know, she’s being deflowered on the bench of a dug out; he sends roses and never calls her again. Bookending Stacy’s experiences, we have her brother Brad entering into his final year at Ridgemont High, fully realized, (or so he thinks). Brad’s got the girl, the car, a sweet gig at the local favorite burger joint, and plenty of hubris to go around. We see his perfectly assembled reality systematically deconstructed throughout the course of the movie. Rock bottom is a young man in a pirate hat and sash. No need to worry; he’ll be fine.
Rounding out our cliché class of 1982, we have Mark “Rat” Ratner, the virgin nerd, and his sleazy bookie buddy, Mike Damone. I would be remiss in not giving Sean Penn’s masterful portrayal of endearing stoner, Jeff Spicoli, the proper recognition, as his marginalized “tit for tat” power struggle with Mr. Hand is potentially the most satisfying of all storylines presented. So, now with our main cast accounted for, I’ll give you the short version: Rat falls for Stacy in Science class and turns to bookie buddy for answers, (as Mike claims to have them all). Stacy, having already explored her sexual comprehension, is ready for more than Rat could even fathom, scaring him off with her assertiveness. In swoops Kama sutra guru Linda Barrett with wisdom beyond her years stating, “You’d better find another boyfriend fast!” (I’m paraphrasing). Stacy sets her sights on our bookie buddy, Mike.
Bookie buddy Mike readily dismisses any loyalty he previously had for Rat, and follows our darling Stacy into her pool house where his performance proved, beyond a doubt, that he’s full of shit. Embarrassed, he quickly changes and leaves. Oops, you’re not getting off that easy, Mikey-boy. Stacy turns up pregnant and Mike further establishes himself as an overall charlatan when he leaves her to figure the issue out by herself. So in summary, Stacy loses her virginity at a baseball field, becomes pregnant in a pool house, and brings herself to the abortion clinic, all at the ripe old age of 15! Summer can’t come soon enough. Oh! In case you were wondering about Brad, as I alluded to earlier, he lost the girl, the sweet gig, and took quite a blow to his self-esteem; he still had his car, though.
Spicoli. Sweet, sweet Spicoli. Perpetually stoned, notoriously tardy, it’s no wonder he’s every educator’s worst nightmare. While Ray Walston plays the role of Mr. Hand as a curmudgeon, never missing an opportunity to give Spicoli a hard time, we’re all pleased to see that these displays of resentment are actually gestures of tough love. Aw! Few could resist the golden locks and watery eyes of Sean Penn in the 80’s, so we don’t blame you Mr. Hand. Everything, more or less, works out for all of our characters, which is where my concerns set in. The laissez faire attitude our cast brings to some fairly dramatic situations can only be seen as disturbing.
Did anyone else notice the absence of parents? I sure did. Apart from some intervention by way of job managers and teachers, these kids were left to govern themselves. The film harkens back to the misguided ideology of the children from Lord of the Flies, (save for the unnecessary deaths and cruelty). Okay, so that comparison might be a stretch, but I hope you see where I’m going. The movie showcases a distinct divide between a collective of youth and the older generation. So, while this flick is typically categorized as a “coming of age story,” I’m a bit more inclined to label it as a disclaimer: a comprehensive catalogue of negative outcomes due to poor judgment, set to a kick ass music score. While the scenarios we’re presented with are not unique to high schoolers, these kids take it all on with a sense of detachment that I find myself envying.
While my take on Fast Times at Ridgemont High could be seen as clinical, it’s comedic appeal, raw quality regarding sexual awareness, and timeless relevance are not lost on me; it’s a cult classic for a reason. With its 35th anniversary falling this month, it seemed necessary to revisit it through the modern lens of 2017, contextualizing its applicability. Though cell phones and social media would have a major impact on the inner workings of our intertwining character developments, the overall schematics would remain the same. Youth in high school, a veritable pressure cooker of feeling and frustration, can only end in one way: the anxious awaiting of summer break and mall jobs.
A Beacon transplant having moved to town two years ago. With a background in photography, literature, and a fondness of nature she does well in keeping busy in this bustling little community.