- Vancouver, British Columbia - I must guiltily admit (I seem to do that a lot in my reviews) that prior to last week, I had never seen this movie. I had sure seen a lot of references to it, and had heard a fair bit about it, but had never sat down and watched it. For that matter, I don’t think I’d seen any scenes from the movie. It was all fresh material for me. Pretty embarrassing, as I’ve seen quite a few teen movies from the 1980s (favourite might just be Weird Science). To accentuate my point, I was actually surprised to see Sean Penn in the movie.
For those who are ashamed to admit they haven’t seen it, Fast Times takes place during a year in high school, following several students and the events that happen to them. We watch the career aspirations of Brad, the sexual discoveries of Stacy, the social learnings of Rat, the academic failings of Spicoli, and Linda’s bikini top coming off. There’s really no one set story, but like the title suggests, a glance at the high speed events that these kids are dealing with.
While watching the flick, fairly early on I sent a text to my friend who lent me the DVD proclaiming I had a newfound crush on Phoebe Cates (he said I’d have to fight Kevin Kline, but I had a good shot). This was even before the infamous bikini top scene, and needless to say I’m deluding myself into pretending she’s not old enough to be my mother. Funny bit of trivia I got from the DVD featurette: apparently video stores were constantly bugging Universal for new copies of the VHS tape, as the tracking would consistently become ruined from frequent pausing, rewinding, and slow-mo. Oh, the days before the internet…
Judge Reinhold is brilliant in this movie. He’s self-assured to the point of being cocky, but he’s so easy-going that it’s hard not to like the guy. He’s got life all figured out, and being amazingly proficient at being flipping burgers at a fast food joint makes him a self-made man. It’s hard not to immediately picture ourselves and others at that age in similar mindsets. Reinhold later guest-starred in the Clerks: Animated Series in a huge Fast Times inspired courtroom episode, and brings an enormous amount of charm to that as well.
The first thing I saw Sean Penn in was I Am Sam, and his career has always struck me as serious and intense. So, imagine my surprise when I see him playing a stoner idiot kid, and doing so convincingly. When Penn wanders into Mr. Hand’s class, having been tricked into attending, and declares “Hey…this isn’t a birthday party!”, I killed myself laughing. He’s the type of stoner who you just feel immensely sorry for, because he’s just such an idiot. Check out his friends: that’s Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards.
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Stacy is the most tragic character in the film, as she really just seems to be along for the ride. It can get uncomfortable, because she looks like a 15 year old and she goes through a lot of sexual misfortunes. She’s used, she gets pregnant, she thinks it’s normal to try to seduce guys on the first date, and Linda’s assertions that this is all how it is can be frustrating. But there’s a lot of truth to these scenarios: a lot of teen girls go through this because they really believe in this expectation. It’s nice to have Rat be the juxtaposition, as he’s the awkward guy who isn’t really knowledgeable to the drama and is honest in how he feels.
I also have to give big props to Ray Walston as Mr. Hand the history teacher. He’s gruff, but not unlikeable. He takes a very serious approach to the role, and makes him relatable and believable. He’s one of those actors who convey a lot of humour through deadpan.
And Forest Whitaker scared the hell out of me.
There was a lot of belief from Universal that the movie was going to flop, and it was very selectively released. Thankfully the movie did well enough and became a cult phenomenon, because audiences can really identify with this material. Many of the students in this movie are teens we went to school with. The humour is also presented in a very well-paced way. The movie succeeds on so many levels because of how accessible it is.
This movie is very much like a senior year at high school. A lot happens quickly, it’s over before you know it, but it’s memorable all the same.
Rating: 4.5/5 Sour Grapes