I’m not sure how it happened exactly that I’d never seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The movie came out in 1982, and I was born a year earlier, but that shouldn’t have stopped me. I’ve seen The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and a slew of other ’80s films. How did this one pass me by?
But I’ve heard the talk, that this is not a movie to miss, so I queued it up on Netflix and watched it as soon as it came. I watched from beginning to end. And when the credits rolled, I turned off my DVD player and decided that it was a terrible movie. I didn’t like one thing about it. Okay, maybe one thing. At the end, when Stacy decides she wants a relationship rather than sex after a flurry of unfulfilling sexual encounters, I felt a tiny twinge of relief that the film may redeem itself after all. But it was just a twinge, and it went away pretty quickly.
If I took the time to properly analyze the movie, I’m sure I could find more redemption within it and resign myself to the fact that it’s really not that bad of a film. But I don’t want to. It was laced with gratuitous sex, explicit talk, and not enough emotional gravity to make me feel invested in any of the characters. Like many high school flicks, the cast is wrestling with defining themselves in the face of peer pressure. But the movie jumps around so quickly, there’s nothing to hang onto and no time to feel much of anything.
Though I was born in the ’80s, this film wasn’t made for my generation. Perhaps that’s my real problem. I’m not a teenager and I’m not a Gen-X-er, but other ’80s films that weren’t made for me either – films like Sixteen Candles, Can’t Buy Me Love, and Teen Wolf – have left an indelible mark within the constellation of films I’ve seen. So, what gives?
Amy Hecklerling, director of Fast Times, also directed another teen movie I love, one that I always stop to watch if I’m flipping through the channels, one that I’m sure other people hate: Clueless. I knew going into Fast Times that Heckerling directed both movies. I expected more similarity between the two, but there’s not a lot. Clueless may be a dumb teenage chick flick, but it’s got heart, something I didn’t see in Fast Times. Though there’s mention of sex, the entire plot line doesn’t revolve around it. Though there’s some drug use, the movie isn’t about drugs.
It’s about Cher, a teenage girl who transforms from a self-absorbed twit into someone who finds the importance of caring for others. She tries to fix her friends and ends up fixing herself – who wouldn’t love that? The main character in Fast Times, Stacy, also changes from beginning to end, though her transformation comes with an understanding about her self-worth as it relates to sex and relationships. That sounds good, but I didn’t care that much about Stacy. Not like I care about Cher.
Of course, the first time I watched Clueless (as a teenager, I should add), I was a little unnerved by Cher’s hookup at the end of the film. Then I read Jane Austen’s Emma. Clueless is loosely based on Austen’s work, and just as Emma falls for Mr. Knightley who is like a brother to her, [in case you somehow haven’t seen the movie, SPOILER ALERT!!] Cher falls for her stepbrother Josh. Though this doesn’t ease all of my discomfort with the semi-incestuous romance between Cher and Josh, I can forgive it.
I’m sure there are plenty of folks who disagree with me and would love to explain to me why Fast Times at Ridgemont High is totally gnarly and Clueless is a full-on Monet. And perhaps there should be no comparison between the films. They have little in common aside from their director and the age of the casts. At the very least, in watching Fast Times I’ve exposed myself to an important thread in our cultural yarn, one to which many refer with fondness. I’ve seen Phoebe Cates’ naked breasts and witnessed Sean Penn’s surfer dude Spicoli, and maybe I’ve missed the entire point of the movie. If ever asked, though, I will never hesitate to point someone away from Fast Times in favor of much more substantial and satisfying teen flicks.