Follows a group of high school students growing up in southern California, based on the real-life adventures chronicled by Cameron Crowe. Stacy Hamilton and Mark Ratner are looking for a love interest, and are helped along by their older classmates, Linda Barrett and Mike Damone, respectively. The center of the film is held by Jeff Spicoli, a perpetually stoned surfer dude who faces off with the resolute Mr. Hand, who is convinced that everyone is on dope.
Let me make myself clear. I am not against vulgarity as asubject for a movie comedy. Sometimes I treasure it, when it’s used withinspiration, as in “The Producers” or “National Lampoon’s AnimalHouse.” But vulgarity is a very tricky thing to handle in a comedy; toneis everything, and the makers of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” havean absolute gift for taking potentially funny situations and turning them intogeneral embarrassment. They’re tone-deaf.
The movie’s another one of those adolescent sex romps, such as”Porky’s” and “Animal House,” in which part of the humorcomes from raunchy situations and dialogue. This movie is so raunchy, however,that the audience can’t quite believe it. I went to a sneak preview thrown by arock radio station, and the audience had come for a good time. But during ascene involving some extremely frank talk about certain popular methods ofsexual behavior, even the rock fans were grossed out. There’s a differencebetween raunchiness and gynecological detail.
The movie’s cast struggles valiantly through all this dreck.Rarely have I seen so many attractive young performers invited to appear in somany unattractive scenes. Leigh, for example, plays a virginal young student atRidgemont High. She’s curious about sex, so the script immediately turns herinto a promiscuous sex machine who will go to bed with anybody. And then hersexual experiences all turn out to have an unnecessary element of realism, sothat we have to see her humiliated, disappointed, and embarrassed. Whateverhappened to upbeat sex? Whatever happened to love and lust and romance, andscenes where good-looking kids had a little joy and excitement in life, insteadof all this grungy downbeat humiliation? Why does someone as pretty as Leighhave to have her nudity exploited in shots where the only point is to show herill-at-ease?
If this movie had been directed by a man, I’d call it sexist. Itwas directed by a woman, Amy Heckerling — and it’s sexist all the same. Itclunks to a halt now and then for some heartfelt, badly handled material aboutpregnancy and abortion. I suppose that’s Heckerling paying dues to somemisconception of the women’s movement. But for the most part this movie justexploits its performers by trying to walk a tightrope between comedy andsexploitation.