Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a 1982 American coming-of-age teen comedy film written by Cameron Crowe and adapted from his 1981 book of the same name. As a freelance writer for Rolling Stone magazine, Crowe went undercover at Clairemont High School in San Diego, California, and wrote about his experiences.
The film was directed by Amy Heckerling and chronicles a school year in the lives of sophomores Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), and their respective older friends Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates) and Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), both of whom believe themselves wiser in the ways of romance than their younger counterparts. The ensemble cast of characters form two subplots with Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), an irresponsible stoned surfer, facing off against uptight history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), and Stacy's brother, Brad (Judge Reinhold), a senior who works at a series of entry-level jobs in order to pay off his car, and who is pondering easing out of his relationship with his girlfriend until she dumps him.
In addition to Penn, Reinhold, Cates and Leigh, this movie marks early appearances by several actors who later became stars, including Nicolas Cage, then billing himself as Nicolas Coppola, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards. Among the actors listed, Penn, Cage, and Whitaker would later on in their careers win the Academy Award for Best Actor, with Penn winning twice.
In 2005, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The film follows the lives of several students at the fictional Ridgemont High School over the course of one academic year.
Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) is a senior who appears to have it made. He is looking forward to his last year of school and almost has his car (a 1960 Buick LeSabre, known as the "Cruising Vessel") paid off. He is popular, in large part because of his part-time job at a burger joint where his girlfriend, Lisa (Amanda Wyss), also works. Brad is pondering how to end his relationship with Lisa so he can play the field during his senior year. However, Brad is fired from his job at the burger joint for losing his temper and threatening an overly obnoxious customer; and when he tries to tell Lisa how much he needs her at a school rally before a big football game, Lisa tells Brad that she is dumping him to see other guys. Brad quits his next job because of the humiliation of having to wear a pirate costume when delivering food. He gets a third job at a convenience store, where he successfully thwarts an attempted robbery and is promoted to store manager.
Brad's sister, Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is a 15-year-old sophomore. She is worried that she is not attractive or experienced enough to even meet, let alone have relationships with, any guys. While working at the mall she meets a 26-year-old stereo salesman who asks her out (after she tells him she is 19). She sneaks out to meet him and they have sex at a secluded make-out spot, known as "The Point". She reveals the loss of her virginity to her friend, popular senior Linda (Phoebe Cates) who assures her that it will hurt less as she does it more.
Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), who earns money making books and scalping tickets, fancies himself a suave ladies' man. He lets his younger best friend Mark "Rat" Ratner (Brian Backer) in on his secrets for picking up girls. When he sees that Rat has a big crush on Stacy, Mike coaxes Rat into asking Stacy out on a date (dinner at an upscale restaurant). Stacy invites Rat into her bedroom after the date, but Rat quickly shies away and leaves when Stacy tries to initiate sex with him.
Later in the film, Damone walks Stacy home after school one afternoon and asks to come into her house. After serving Damone iced tea, Stacy invites him for a swim in the backyard pool; but when this leads to sex in the pool house with Stacy, Damone has a premature ejaculation and flees in embarrassment. When Stacy later informs Damone that she is pregnant as a result, he first agrees to pay half the fee for an abortion and to drive her to the abortion clinic, but reneges when he is unable to come up with the money. Desperate, Stacy pleads with Brad to drive her supposedly to a bowling alley, but after he drops her off, Brad sees her through his rearview mirror going to the abortion clinic across the street. When he returns, Brad waits for Stacy to emerge from the clinic. Embarrassed, Stacy makes Brad promise not to tell their parents. When Stacy tells Linda about Damone blowing her off, Linda flies into a rage and spray paints obscenities on Damone's car and school locker. Word quickly gets around school about Damone's sexual encounter with Stacy, which leads to a confrontation between Damone and Rat in the boys' locker room. At the end of the film, the viewer is informed that Stacy and Rat are having a passionate love affair, but have still not "gone all the way".
Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) is a surfer and habitual marijuana user who is in Stacy's American history class. The strict teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), has no patience with Spicoli's carefree attitude and especially not with Spicoli's slacking. Finally, on the evening of the graduation dance, Mr. Hand shows up at Spicoli's house and informs him that since he has wasted eight hours of class time over the past year, Mr. Hand intends to make up for the time on that night. They proceed to have a one-on-one tutoring session that lasts until Mr. Hand is satisfied that Spicoli has understood the lesson. Outside of class, Spicoli wrecks a car (a 1979 Chevrolet Camaro Z28) belonging to Ridgemont's star football player Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker). To avoid being beaten up, Spicoli has an idea and parks the car in Ridgemont's front lawn and paints the car with slurs supposedly written by Ridgemont's rival, Lincoln High school (an actual high school in San Diego, California). When Ridgemont plays Lincoln in the upcoming game, Jefferson is so full of rage over his destroyed car that he injures several of Lincoln's players when tackling them--thinking that Lincoln's players destroyed his car. Ridgemont, of course, wins the game in a one-sided blowout.
In addition to Rat and Stacy's continuing relationship and Brad's promotion to manager at the convenience store, fates of some of the other characters are revealed at the end of the film. Spicoli saves Brooke Shields from drowning and then wastes the reward money hiring Van Halen to play at his birthday party. Linda got accepted to UC Riverside and moved in with her abnormal psychology professor. Damone gets arrested for scalping Ozzy Osbourne tickets. Mr. Hand is left to believe everyone is on drugs, and Mr. Vargas switched back to coffee (he switched to Sanka when he was introduced earlier in the film).
The soundtrack album, Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Music from the Motion Picture, peaked at #54 on the Billboard album chart. The soundtrack features the work of many quintessential 1980s rock artists.
Several of the movie's songs were released as singles, including Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby", which reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Other singles were the title track by Sammy Hagar, "So Much in Love" by Timothy B. Schmit, "Raised on the Radio" by (The Ravyns) and "Waffle Stomp" by Joe Walsh. In addition to Schmit and Walsh, the album features solo tracks by two other members of the Eagles, Don Henley and Don Felder. The soundtrack also included "I Don't Know (Spicoli's Theme)" by Jimmy Buffett.
Five tracks in the film, but not included on the soundtrack, are: "Moving in Stereo" by The Cars, "American Girl" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "We Got the Beat" by The Go Go's, Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," and "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms. In addition, the live band at the prom dance during the end of the film played two songs also not on the soundtrack: "Life in the Fast Lane" and "Wooly Bully".
The Donna Summer track, "Highway Runner", was initially recorded in 1981 for her double album entitled I'm a Rainbow; however, the album was shelved by Summer's then-label, Geffen Records, but ultimately released in 1996 by Mercury Records. The album is once again out of print.
Todd Rundgren also recorded the song, "Attitude", for the film at Crowe's request. It was not included in the film, but was later released on Rundgren's Demos and Lost Albums in 2001.
Amy Heckerling, in the DVD audio commentary, states that the 1970s "classic rock" artists, like the Eagles, were introduced by one of the film's producers. Coincidentally, Irving Azoff, one of the movie's producers, was the personal manager for the Eagles.
The film is adapted from a book Crowe wrote after a year spent at Clairemont High School in San Diego, California. He went undercover to do research for his 1981 book Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story, about his observations of the high school and the students he befriended there, including then-student Andy Rathbone, on whom the character "Rat" was modeled.
Heckerling shepherded the young cast, which included Nicolas Cage in his first feature-film role. He was credited as "Nicolas Coppola" for the only time in his career. It was also the film debut for Eric Stoltz and provided early roles for Anthony Edwards and Forest Whitaker. Crowe's girlfriend at the time, and later, wife, Nancy Wilson of Heart, has a cameo as "Beautiful Girl in Car".
Fast Times was filmed in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles (although it is never explicitly mentioned as such in the film) in late 1981, and many people identify the movie with that area and the teen culture that existed there, or was perceived to, in the early 1980s. "Ridgemont" is a fictional name. Crowe applied it to Clairemont High School in San Diego where he attended the school undercover. (Spicoli mentions surfing at Sunset Cliffs, a genuine surf spot in San Diego.) Most of the exteriors of Ridgemont High School were shot at Van Nuys High School, and other scenes were shot at Canoga Park High School and Torrance High. The "Ridgemont Mall" shown in the film was actually the Sherman Oaks Galleria, with its exterior shot at Santa Monica Place. Both have since been converted to open-air malls. "The Point" was filmed at the Encino Little League Field in Encino.
In the DVD commentary, director Amy Heckerling tells of how Phoebe Cates was initially reluctant to carry out her character's poolside topless scene at the house in West Hills because she thought the neighbors might be spying on the set from the surrounding rooftops.
Universal Pictures gave it a limited theatrical release on August 13, 1982, opening in 498 theaters. It earned $2.5 million in its opening weekend. The release was later widened to 713 theaters, earning $3.25 million and ranking 29th among US releases in 1982. The movie has since earned more than $27 million, six times its $4.5 million budget, gaining popularity through television and home video releases.
Over the years the film has obtained an iconic status. In an interview, Sean Penn stated "None of us had any idea it would take on a life of its own."
The film has an 80% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a site consensus stating "While Fast Times at Ridgemont High features Sean Penn's legendary performance, the film endures because it accurately captured the small details of school, work, and teenage life." However, it was panned by critics at the time. Roger Ebert called it a "scuz-pit of a movie", though he praised the performances by Leigh, Penn, Cates and Reinhold.Janet Maslin wrote that it was "a jumbled but appealing teen-age comedy with something of a fresh perspective on the subject."
Crowe's screenplay was nominated for a WGA Award for best comedy adapted from another medium. The film ranks #87 on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs list, is #15 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies" and is #2 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the "50 Best High School Movies".
American Film Institute recognition
The movie inspired a short-lived 1986 television series for CBS called Fast Times. Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli reprised their roles, respectively as Hand and Vargas, the biology teacher. Other cast members were Courtney Thorne-Smith (Melrose Place) as Stacey, Wally Ward as Mark, Claudia Wells (Back to the Future) as Linda, Patrick Dempsey (Grey's Anatomy) as Mike Damone, Dean Cameron as Jeff Spicoli and James Nardini as Brad. Kit McDonough played teacher Leslie Melon, a character that was exclusive to the series.
Moon Zappa was a "technical consultant" for this television series. She was hired in order to research slang terms and mannerisms of teenagers, as she had just graduated from high school at the time and had a much better grasp of then-current high school behavior than the writers, and Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo) wrote and performed the television series theme.