Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold
Director: Amy Heckerling
Running Time: 90 mins
Fast Times At Ridgemont High is an American film about a group of California high schoolers and their lives and romances outside of the classroom.
High school antics in the 1980s – you’ve seen it all before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with the same story once again. Fast Times At Ridgemont High, while not a perfect teen comedy, is a good laugh, finding a strong balance between chaotic vulgarity and cheesy romance and teen drama, complete with a range of lively and enjoyable performances that all make the film a pleasant and easy-going watch.
There’s an endless amount of these high school romps out there, but in my mind, there’s two extremes of how to do it right, and how to do it wrong. At the upper end of the spectrum, you have the likes of Animal House, which counterbalance pure juvenile idiocy with smart, snappy humour and likably moronic characters. At the other end, you have the likes of American Pie, where the vulgar, gross-out factor is the main objective, rather than a simple and easy-going comedy.
Fast Times At Ridgemont High sits right in the middle, meaning that while it does occasionally get a little vulgar for its own good, it’s still a measured and well-written movie that prioritises character-driven entertainment and wittier humour over sheer stupidity. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s an intense, taxing film (and nor should it be), but it does at least mean there’s something to interest and entertain you while all of the teenage silliness is unfolding.
What’s more, with a wide range of main characters – a good six or seven at least – the film doesn’t have to worry too hard about strong character development or real emotional depth. There’s still a degree of that, and that’s what makes the majority of the characters surprisingly endearing, but the movie works well as a series of little episodes from the lives of a group of high schoolers, and there’s not really much need to go any deeper than that.
Of course, Fast Times At Ridgemont High still doesn’t quite stand up to the likes of Animal House, simply because the whole story is at times a little too detached and spread-out. Each of the film’s little episodes and adventures are fun to watch, but it’s missing a sense of cohesion where all of the characters’ lives have more of an impact on one another, which is something that Animal House does far better.
With that said, it’s still difficult not to enjoy this movie, and while the characters aren’t quite as idiotically endearing as the leads from Animal House, the performances do go a long way to making them likable and fairly interesting across the board. A young Jennifer Jason Leigh, in particular, gives an excellent performance, shying away from playing a basic, whiney teenager, instead impressing with an assured and genuine performance.
Other leads such as Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer and Phoebe Cates are all just as strong, while Sean Penn stars as the lovable moron in a John Belushi-esque role, albeit not quite as endearingly stupid.
Overall, I had a lot of fun with Fast Times At Ridgemont High. It’s not the best high school comedy out there, but it’s a solid and well-written movie that’s a lot of fun to watch. Not too vulgar and not too silly, it’s a pleasant and easy-going watch that’s filled with good humour and likable characters, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5 overall.