Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Review: 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' Blu-ray

Teen comedies weren’t quite a thing yet when Fast Times at Ridgemont High hit theaters in 1982. Porky’s had been a big hit the year before, but Bob Clark’s puerile approach was very different from Amy Heckerling’s more nuanced one even if a lot of critics couldn’t tell the difference. The dawn of John Hughes’s teen comedies that would define the decade was still a couple of years away, and his glossier, more mannered, more melodramatic approach was very different from Heckerling and screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s inclination toward realism. 

On first blush, the filmmakers’ snapshot of eighties high school life may not feel totally naturalistic. Sean Penn’s iconic stoner Jeff Spicoli and his nemesis, Ray Walston’s Mr. Hand, are caricatures… but they are not two-dimensional caricatures. Judge Reinhold and Robert Romanus are clearly too old to play high school students… and yet their portrayals are almost completely convincing even though Romanus’s sleaze-ball Mike Damone inches toward caricature too. Some of the situations are perhaps a touch too silly… although I remember some pretty silly shit from my own high school days, and I know you do too.


However, there is zero artifice in Jennifer Jason Leigh’s confused and very much still a child Stacy Hamilton, and as the film’s focal point, she shines truth on every other character and situation in her orbit. Her ambivalence about sex, her discomfort in her own skin when courting, her effortless comfort when seducing boys that are clearly beneath her, and her matter-of-fact abortion transform a movie that perhaps could have become another Porky’s with a less assured actor and director and a fair share of studio meddling into the only eighties teen comedy that feels authentic. Spicoli and Hand’s sparring is really funny, and the myriad unforgettable scenes and one liners deserve a lot of credit, but that underlying gravity Crowe, Heckerling, and Leigh bring to Fast Times is what really makes it unique, a natural cult movie, and a worthy inclusion in the Criterion Collection.


Criterion’s new Blu-ray presents Fast Times at Ridgemont High correctly. Not the candy-dipped picture Hughes’s movies are, the image retains the strong grain and somewhat dim look that defines the film, but it is also sufficiently sharp and vivid. The rock and roll soundtrack (The Go-Go’s! Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers! The Cars! Led Zeppelin [but not Led Zeppelin IV]!) sounds great. A few seconds of full-frontal Damone that would have earned the picture an X-rating has been reinstated for this release.


Brand-new supplements are limited to a 35-minute, Olivia Wilde-moderated Zoom chat between Heckerling and Crowe and text essays by critic Dana Stevens and Crowe, both of which are worth reading (I gasped when Crowe revealed who the studio’s first choice for director was). There’s also a vintage AFI interview with Heckerling and the 40-minute documentary and audio commentary from the 1999 DVD. Most amusing is a pan-and-scan presentation of this decidedly R-Rated movie’s TV edit. It includes a few minutes of extra footage, but I still have no idea who’s gonna watch that.

All written content of Psychobabble200.blogspot.com is the property of Mike Segretto and may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.