Sunday, June 29, 2008

Thumbs Down on 'Ridgemont'....

At the risk of alienating the masses of people that absolutely adore this movie, I have chosen to embrace my initial instinct and pick Fast Times at Ridgemont High as one of my least favorite films. Before I start listing the numerous reasons why I've never liked this movie, I'd like to first begin by saying that I appreciate it. I have seen the film many times. I think it is the ultimate teensploitation/ sexploitation comedy. If I recall correctly, 'Fast Times' audiences are previewed to 90 minutes of teenagers engaging in some of the most crude, nasty and unattractive behaviors known to mankind. The movie features two relatively explicit sex scenes, an abortion, a male masturbation scene, high school girls practicing fellatio on innocent carrots, drug use and an infamous slow motion sequence in which a young woman removes her bathing suit top. All of these aspects help define 'Fast Times' as a teensploitation/ sexploitation. The movie is all about showing teenagers having sex and doing drugs (cornerstones of both genres).

I appreciated this film for having helped define the "teen comedy" "teenspoitation" archetype. I also think that, nowadays, the film works as a celluloid time capsule. The movie features countless images, sounds and memories from the 1980's. Folks that actually lived through those years probably find 'Fast Times' to be pleasantly nostalgic.

However, I have always found the heart of this movie to be extremely cynical, pandering and fake. I have always thought the characters were extremely one dimensional and stereotypical. We had Spicoli the stoner, Stacy the virgin, Rat the likable nice guy, Demone the jerk, Brad the disgruntled older brother etc. All of the characters seemed like they were coming straight out of a cheesy sitcom. The content of the film isn't very uplifting either. None of the characters go through a significant change. Stacy's ultimate revelation, after having affairs, becoming pregnant and then having an abortion, is that she wants a "relationship" instead of sex. To me, this acknowledgement from her always seemed a little over simplified and borderline insipid. Furthermore, in the context of the rest of the film, Stacy's abortion subplot seems oddly out of place for a comedy. The whole movie, in my opinion, felt like it was made by adults trying to guess what it would be like to be in high school. And considering 'Fast Times' was based on a book written about the experiences of a grown man posing as a high school student, my assessment doesn't appear to be excessively outrageous. The whole film lacks a lot of innocence and exuberance. When you strip away the cool outfits, music, stars and laughs, you're ultimately left with a really cynical, depressing interpretation of youth.

I understand that "exploitation" films are supposed to be "cheesy" and campy. However, I think it's also possible to make an exploitation film that features original characters who have genuinely inspired experiences and authentic, meaningful revelations. I appreciate the iconography of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but not the characters, the story or the writing.

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