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Entry date: 8-17-2022 - Fast Times - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

It came to my attention recently that Fast Times At Ridgemont High has just turned forty years old. Like most things that happened a long time ago, it is hard to believe it was that long ago until I start thinking about all the things that have happened since then. If I added up all the times I have seen the movie or the minutes I have spent watching it, it is a small, but significant chunk of my life.

Forty years ago, I was about to start my eighth-grade year at Madison Meadows, and I was no stranger to teen movies or movies about high school. They were pretty popular in those days. My Bodyguard (1980) was another favorite of mine, and these two movies shaped my understanding of what I thought high school was going to be like more than any other movies.

Obviously, I was disappointed when Deer Valley High School was nothing like Ridgemont or Lake View, but I got over it. My disappointment did not overshadow my love for either film. I have faithfully watched them both throughout the years and continued to enjoy them.

Fast Times does not have the charm possessed by My Bodyguard but both have a real sense of grit and angst and the honing of survival instincts that teenagers need to possess. Being closer to high school when I first saw Fast Times, I wanted to know those characters so much more. As I look back, the characters in both movies were likeable (well, except for a lot Matt Dillon’s screentime in MB) and very relatable.

I had no real reference for some of the situations the characters were put in, but that was a good thing. Fast Times did a great job of making these horrible situations something I could begin to grasp and understand the power in them. As a father of daughters, I watch some of the scenes very differently now, of course, but at the time, I knew I didn’t want to be Mike Damone. I wanted to be more like Mark Ratner when it came to interacting with the ladies. I wanted to work in a mall and get to know the people who worked there, too.

I wanted to hang out with Jeff Spicoli. Who didn’t, right? I wanted to be like Brad Hamilton. Funny and wise and heroic, in a goofy way. Thinking about it now, the depiction of these characters was really fantastic. Director Amy Heckerling, in what was her first feature film, got great performances out of the entire cast. This is a very powerful film in many ways.

When the whole Roe V Wade thing happened recently, I wrote about abortion and my own experience with it. Seeing Fast Times helped me understand what the situation really was, in a way, that made it no less horrible, but it helped me be a better partner and more empathetic. I truly believe that and I’m guessing it helped others in a similar way. Again, don’t be that version of Damone.

I tend to believe that if you watch a movie and it entertains you, that’s a good thing. Fast Times is a very entertaining movie. You can laugh at it and not get caught up in any of the underlying subtext, even though it is all right there. There are plenty of great laughs. I haven’t even mentioned the beautiful supporting role of Ray Walston as Mr. Hand.

I would be lying if I said I have never copped a line from Mr. Hand in the classroom. I have written “I don’t know” on the board and said, “I like that” before going into a version of the whole speech. It’s glorious. Young kids don’t get the reference at all and often think I am the funniest teacher eve. Hell, half the teachers I work with don’t get a good Fast Times reference.

I always felt like the Nick Nolte movie, Teachers, was always trying to make a whole movie out of the school scenes and/or commentary about schools in Fast Times. I could be wrong here, but it is a connection I’ve always drawn between the two. By the time Teachers came out, I was firmly ensconced in the high school experience, so perhaps that framed my take on it.

While the school aspect was balanced really nicely with the away from school scenes, which is probably a credit to Cameron Crowe’s book, the scenes with Mr. Hand and Mr. Vargas were really great. I thought high school science was going to be like Mr. Vargas’ class, but it wasn’t. It was actually like a watered down, less funny, less interesting version.

The part of the movie that troubled me the most as a kid and maybe still as an adult was the Phoebe Cates character, Linda. Even at 12, almost 13 years old when I first saw it, I felt so sorry for her. The way that Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, Stacy, comes around to seeing how flawed Linda truly is during the film was a nice turn by Heckerling to make Stacy grow as a character. The decisions these two teenage girls were making is truly frightening now but they were, and are, a reflection of real life.

Certainly, Cates interaction with Judge Reinhold’s Brad character after the swimming pool scene was enough to make a wise teenage boy value a door lock as much as just about anything in life. At the time of first viewing, I didn’t understand that scene as much as I would come to a few years later, but the message and lesson were not lost on me. It’s weird to think Phoebe Cates is now on the verge of being 60 years old. The image of her coming out of the pool is burned into so many minds of guys and gals my age.

I would also be remiss to not mention how great this movie was in terms of showing budding teenagers like myself at the time what it meant to work in entry level jobs. My own experience at Taco Bell and McDonalds (as well as my one night at Arby’s) was not too different than what was portrayed onscreen. I would have preferred to be more of a wheeler-dealer like Damone was (without the horrible interpersonal skills), but that would come later in life.

Happy 40th birthday, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

See you tomorrow.

This poster is great but leaves out so much...

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