Teenhood: Remembering “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”

It has been 35 years since screenwriter Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling brought us teen coming of age classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Neal Damiano remembers a film that remains just as relevant today as it did when first released in 1982.

Sean Penn, Top 10 Films,

It has been 35 years since a small teen comedy grabbed the hearts of teenagers all across America. Cameron Crowe wrote and Amy Heckerling directed Fast Times At Ridgemont High, a cult classic from 1982 featuring a ensemble cast including Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold and Phoebe Cates in a story about teens who get in and out of trouble, relationships, and high school.

What set Fast Times At Ridgemont High apart from the many sexually gratuitous teen films that came out that year is the character development. The movie actually builds a solid story around each character. Relatable and interesting storylines which was a rarity for teen films of the 1980s. Each one is dealing with something that seems like the end of the world.

The movie focuses on six central characters. Brad, a mature senior who grapples with having a job, a girlfriend, and school life; Stacy, a fifteen-year-old naive girl who is over-eager to gain sexual experience; Linda, a high school girl who tries so hard to be sophisticated; Ratner, a movie usher who is brutally shy around girls; Damone, a smooth talking concert ticket scalper; and Spicoli, a stoner who dreams of being a professional surfer.

Many teen centered films jabbed at the punchline almost using the teens as a tool to get the laugh. Fast Times used the story to reach a laugh, unlike a John Hughes film which focused on heavy subject matter to push the story. This film built the storyline around the characters and the authentic, recognizable anxieties didn’t seem heavy because the characters were very entertaining. Heckerling was able to achieve this brilliantly without over exaggeration or needless gratuity. The teenagers were straight to the point even when Spicoli ordered the double cheese with sausage pizza during US History class.

It is a ride through nostalgia and even though I was not a teenager in 1982 I remember the movie always playing on TV as a preteen. The characters are unforgettable, it’s one of those films that makes you smile. So 35 years later it is still relevant. Not bad for a film about the lives of teenagers.

Words by Neal Damiano

See more from Neal Damiano: Top 10 Must See 1980s High School Comedy Movies & Top 10 Quintessential 1980s Films

About the Author
Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    So glad you wrote this article and no surprise that we share the same opinion on this as well, Neal. Fast Times at Ridgemont High, even more than any John Hughes film, is a seminal moment in film history. It perfectly nailed Teen Angst and interests and social paradigms and sexuality from the 80s. Fast Times at Ridgemont High has a star turning performance from Sean Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh and also has Forest Whitaker and a small cameo role. The film is littered with future Oscar winners including Penn and Whitaker and also Cameron Crowe and art Linson the producer. Thanks very much for writing an insightful article that brings back memories. I am going to go home and watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High tonight.

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thanks for the feedback, Dan Grant
      It sure was a film for its time. Captured what it was to be a teenager in 1982.

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    Callum Reply

    Wow… 35 years! It still feels fresh today… like you say the themes are still so recognisable. Goes to show what a talented writer Cameron Crowe is I think.

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    Roger Keen Reply

    Memorable for Phoebe Cates by the pool but there’s literally loads of bits that stand out in Fast Times. I always liked Judge Reinhold, he’s terrific; very natural. Crowe’s script is great too.

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    Gill Chisholm Reply

    There’s a great vibe and energy about Fast Times that stands the test of time.

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    Nigel Sykes Reply

    Can’t believe it has been 35 years. I remember seeing this in the cinema when it first came out.

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    CineGirl Reply

    Great tribute Neal. Fast Times is an enduring classic of the teen genre, so warm and funny and moving. Great soundtrack too!

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    Rory Reply

    A lovely tribute Neal.

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      Neal Damiano Reply

      Thank you Rory,

      I’m very proud of this piece. Robert Romanus actually sent me an IM and said “nailed it” so it’s approved! Lol

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    Andie Reply

    One of my favourite films. Really nice to read this loving tribute.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    Thank you all so much, for reading and the feedback!
    It’s a film that was part of my childhood collective.

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