Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

fast times at ridgemont high poster 1982 movie sean penn
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great '80s looking movie, Spicoli

Dated for younger viewers

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Studio:  Refugee Films

Genre(s):  Comedy

Release Date(s):  August 13, 1982

MPAA Rating:  R


Hey bud…let’s party!

The kids at Ridgemont High are like all the kids their age.  They have part-time jobs, hang out with their friends, date, and go to school.  Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) is a senior who suddenly finds his dream job at All-American Burger gone and his life falling apart.  Brad’s sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) finds herself entering the dating world and having to choose between the nice Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) or his darker and sleezier friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) while her friend Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates) encourages her to date more mature men.  As Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) tries to control his class, he finds himself at odds with stoner surfer Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn)…Hey bud, let’s party!!!


Ahoy, mateys!

Directed by Amy Heckerling, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was based on Cameron Crowe’s book of the same title released in 1981.  The stories come from Crowe’s time undercover at Clairemont High School in San Diego, California while he was a writer for Rolling Stone and most of the characters in the story are versions of people he met.  The movie received mixed reviews at the time and also featured a best-selling soundtrack loaded with ’80s bands.  The movie frequently makes “Best Of” lists for comedies and featured a short lived spin-off series in 1986 which was simply called Fast Times.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #1075).


Not just a beautiful subject…but a beautiful shot

Growing up in the ’80s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a movie like Porky’s or Police Academy where even if you hadn’t seen it (and as a pre-teen, seeing R-Rated films wasn’t always possible), you knew all about it and waited for it to be on TV.  It is easy to forget through multiple TV viewings what was cut out of the film, but it is great to revisit (and remember scenes you had forgotten).

The movie’s “story” is pretty basic if you want to call it a story at all.  Basically it is an ensemble piece where you follow a number of characters through a year.  Some characters are more tied (like Brad and Stacy) and some characters are fringe characters (like Spicoli).  It isn’t very plot driven and most of the storylines by today’s standard are pretty tame (drugs, sex, pregnancy, etc.).  It might be hard for younger viewers to get into it or even get it…they don’t know the joy of smelling a new ditto print-out and will question why the students are smelling paper.


Can you get me a free cup?

The cast is what really drives Fast Times at Ridgemont High and it is loaded with young rising stars at the time and future stars.  The characters do feel like people you went to school with.  Having worked in fast food, I can associate with most of the people like Reinhold who have pedestrian jobs but still have some pride in them.  Phoebe Cates shot to bombshell level with her famous “getting out of the pool” scene and Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a good “every girl”.  Brian Backer is probably the least memorable character just because he is the good guy to his sleezy friend Mike.  Other players in the movie include Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Nicolas Cage (who was then Nicolas Coppola), Amanda Wyss, James Russo, Anthony Edwards, Vincent Schiavelli, and Bruce Springsteen’s sister Pamela Springsteen.  The movie also featured Lana Clarkson (as Mr. Vargas’s surprisingly attractive wife), and Clarkson later gained notoriety when she was murdered which led to a conviction for record producer Phil Spector on second-degree murder charges.


Don’t bogart my pizza, dude!

The real revelation in this movie is Sean Penn.  I can say that I’m not a big Sean Penn fan, but his portrayal of surfer dude Spicoli is a scene stealer.  Many others have tried to recreate it to some limited success (Bill & Ted would probably be the closest), but Spicoli works in that he has a great relationship with Ray Walston as Mr. Hand.

The movie is totally ’80s and worth watching for that since.  Younger viewers will see how their parents lived and parents will enjoy the nostalgia of the movie.  It was shot in the San Fernando Valley and used Van Nuys High School and Canoga Park High School for the fictional Ridgemont with the famed Sherman Oaks Galleria and Santa Monica Place for the mall.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a classic and it has held up better than some comedies.  The movie isn’t a rolling on the ground laughing type movie but has a simple pleasure to it.  If you haven’t seen Fast Times, check it out and if it has been a few years, it is time to go back to the mall.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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