Saturday, September 08, 2007

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

(movie review)

Believe it or not, this is the first time to see this movie....I know, where have I been?

The first time I remember even hearing about this movie was in 9th grade. My 9th grade religion teacher was on his favorite topic: how awful pre-marital sex was. For one reason or another this is one of those speeches that stuck in my memory, and I think I remember him pretty much verbatim:

"Hollywood movies always portray sex as glamorous. It's not glamorous. The only movie I ever saw that portrayed sex accurately was 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High'. And I can't recommend it to you because it's rated R, and it's rated R for some very good reasons. But there's a scene in the movie where a high school girl is on a date, and the guy only has one thing on his mind. And they end up having sex in the baseball bleachers and he's on top of her and she just has this look of horror on her face like 'what have I gotten myself into'."

My second encounter with this movie was back in the early days of the internet. We had a prodigy subscription at our house (remember Prodigy?) and I use to waste a lot of time on their movie review archive reading about movies I hadn't seen yet. (Scary how we never grow out of some of these childhood bad habits, isn't it? I still waste a lot of time reading junk on-line).

The prodigy review compared this movie to all the other teen sex flicks in the late 70s early 80s which featured a group of boys (the reviewer claimed "usually Southern") who went on several amorous adventures and glorious conquests. By contrast "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" provided a much more realistic look by focusing on the unglamorous side of teen sexuality: the disappointing first sexual encounter, the sister's friend walking in on the brother masturbating, and the lady's man who suffers from premature ejaculation. Not to mention the pregnancy and the abortion.

Based on these descriptions I always thought "Fast Times" would be a gritty somber flick. But then I began to notice I would usually hear it referenced alongside all of the other feel-good teen comedies of the 80s.

Over the years I caught bits and pieces of it on TV, but never managed to catch the whole thing straight through. I even sat through a good chunk of a dubbed version on late night Japanese TV, but didn't understand most of it.

And so the other day, when I saw it in my video store, I thought I might as well rent it and watch the whole thing beginning to end to see what this film was all about anyway.

I suspect I was probably the last person on earth who hadn't seen this film, but just in case there is anyone more out of touch than me let me recount the premise.

Journalist and child prodigy Cameron Crowe (whose own autobiographical story is told in the movie "Almost Famous") went back to high school at 22. He pretended to be a high school student and wrote a book about the kids he saw around him. Hollywood bought the rights to the book, and made the movie.

The book apparently takes a few liberties with the truth (composite characters, a few things switched around) and the movie takes a few liberties with the book, so it is a few steps removed from the real thing, but it is usually marketed as an unflinching look at high school reality.

This is a hard movie to classify. Part of it wants to be a serious look at high school problems. Part of it wants to be just another teen comedy. It's a movie that flirts with greatness, but ultimately doesn't really rise to the next level.

The DVD extras and the directors commentary offer some interesting insight into the battle with studio executives that helps to explain this. The studio wanted a nice generic teen comedy, and the director and writer had to battle them on a lot of points. Also it was interesting to hear that the director hated most of the songs on the soundtrack as much as I did. The studio insisted all those cheesy soft rock ballads be used in the movie. (Although there are some cool songs snuck in there as well. Another interesting tidbit from the DVD commentary is that it is virtually impossible to get Led Zeppelin songs for sound tracks, but because of Cameron Crowe's relationship with Zeppelin as a rock journalist, they obliged and gave him "Kashmir").

The film follows several different characters, which helps to keep it interesting, although as a consequence of that none of the plotlines are developed as much as I would have liked. And the Hollywood ending seems a bit tacked on.

The film does show the unglamorous side of teen sexuality, but it does not take a puritanical view, and I imagine there is a lot in here my 9th grade religion teacher would disapprove of. The film makers themselves (again on the DVD commentary) say the only reason the film could get made in the first place is that they got in right before the conservative 80s backlash got up to full strength.

But well the film may ultimately end on an unsatisfying note, it is certainly an entertaining movie to watch. Like a lot of teen movies, it showcases a lot of young future stars before they became famous.

Link of the Day
Apparently this Salon article has been making the blogging rounds:
Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction
Salon exclusive: Two former CIA officers say the president squelched top-secret intelligence, and a briefing by George Tenet, months before invading Iraq.

And, just because I'm such a fair minded guy, here is a critique of the same article off of this modern world.

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