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Logline: A year in the life of a group of Southern California high school students.

Review: Before John Hughes’ teen comedies, there was Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridegmont High, a much grittier and hard edged look at life in high school.  I first came across Fast Times at the age of twelve while in the fifth grade.  I had a crush on 80s star Phoebe Cates and learned of her infamous topless pool scene in the film, for which I was anxious to see.  Even though I enjoyed Fast Times, I did not fully appreciate it at such a young age.  Revisiting the film as an adult cemented its status for me as a classic that perfectly captures the zeitgeist of American high school life in the 80s.

There are two main aspects that make Fast Times an excellent film-its authenticity and its cast of young talent.  The film was written by Cameron Crowe who based it on an article he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine.  Crowe went undercover for a year at a high school in San Diego and wrote about his experiences there.  Few films capture the awkwardness of being a teenager in high school as well as this one.  The film does not skirt around sensitive topics in the realm of teenage sexuality, such as abortion.  The characters are extraordinarily developed and interesting, brought to life by some talented young actors.  The cast of up and coming performers includes Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Phoebe Cates, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, and Nicholas Cage.  Penn and Leigh are the respective leads.  Penn has great comedic timing as senior stoner dude Jeff Spicoli and provides a lot of the film’s humor.  Leigh is excellent as sophomore Stacy Hamilton, whose older friend pushes her to be more sexually adventurous even though she may not be ready.  The only real adult characters of note in the film are two teachers played by the great character actors Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli.

Fast Times is a time capsule of early 80s culture.  The soundtrack, in turn, is wonderful with tunes from many rock and roll artists of the 70s and 80s.  Highlights include The Go-Go’s We Got the Beat, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ American Girl, Jackson Browne’s Somebody’s Baby, Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, The Cars’ Moving In Stereo, Stevie Nicks’ Sleeping Angel, and Jimmy Buffet’s I Don’t Know.  While perhaps a little too honest and raw for some, Fast Times remains an essential slice of 80s cinema.  It takes a rare, genuine look inside the lives of teenagers and it’s totally awesome!

Rating (out of ****): ****