Before Dazed and Confused, before Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, before Freaks and Geeks, there was Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This 1982 high school comedy set the template for countless coming-of-age films and shows; as critic Dana Stevens put it, “This movie’s DNA lives on in every pair of black-and-white-checked slip-on Vans, every utterance of ‘awesome,’ and every teen sex scene that’s honest enough to show something more truthful than soft-focus romance.”
It’s got timeless comic moments—masturbation interruptus, a first date gone hilariously awry, stoner bon mots—and a treasure trove of pure ’80s ephemera, like a mimeograph-sniffing history class, Pat Benatar lookalikes, and $20 concert tickets. It’s also shot through with a veracity about the heartbreak and darkness of teenagerhood that you rarely find in any movie filed under “comedy.” Truly, there’s still nothing quite like it.
To commemorate the Fast Times 40th anniversary, Universal’s re-releasing it in theaters on July 29. And we’ll be talking to star Judge Reinhold, who played the downward-spiraling senior Brad Hamilton, about what it was really like making what nobody knew then would be an American classic.
Directed by Amy Heckerling (Clueless) in her feature debut and written by future Oscar winner Cameron Crowe, Fast Times is jam-packed with dewy-faced actors who’d go on to be names we all knew, from stars Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Reinhold, and Phoebe Cates to brief appearances by Forest Whitaker, Anthony Edwards, and Nicolas Coppola (you’ll know him by his updated surname: Cage).
It also bears mentioning, especially right now, that it’s still one of the only mainstream American movies to feature—just in passing, not as a main plot point—a teenage girl getting an abortion. As critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote, “it’s strange that with Fast Times at Ridgemont High we finally got a movie that was so truthful and forthright about it—and then, after that, nothing.”
Sure, Gen X’ers and elder Millennials will be into it, but why should the kids care about catching Fast Times on the big screen? As Reinhold tells us, it’ll never not be relevant to teens: “High school kids will always do two things: Think about sex, and work to make money.”
Stay tuned for our oral history of Fast Times with Judge Reinhold next week.
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