Picture my recent lazy Sunday afternoon: The cable is out, but luckily a retrospective on Animal House is on network television. The first hour includes interviews with cast and crew that attest to the importance of the film; the two-hour movie follows. Fifteen minutes into Animal House, I wonder why anyone would want to show this film on network television, where it appears neither important nor funny. Edited for the tube, it's choppy, half the jokes are missing, and the characters' wings are clipped.
Still Animal House will always strike a chord with anyone who has attended college, just as Johnny Mathis will forever be relevant to anyone in love. Likewise, Fast Times at Ridgemont High will always be a connection to high school memories. Unfortunately, like Animal House, no one would ever know it from watching the network television version of Fast Times.
The movie, adapted by first-time feature film director Amy Heckerling from the book by Cameron Crowe, who spent a year posing as a high school student for research and based his writings on actual people and events, was at first tagged with an X rating. It was a struggle to get it produced, and then it received sound lashings from many a critic for its frank (and often dark) depictions of teen-age sexuality.
In the course of the film, Jennifer Jason Leigh's character, Stacy Hamilton, discovers sex, gets used, is rejected, becomes pregnant and has an abortion. That's kind of a bummer plotline for a comedy, but, in fact, there are many story lines that compose the film. Fast Times also shows actors in some of their earliest roles, including Judge Reinhold as Stacy's brother Brad Hamilton, Sean Penn's often quoted and plagiarized stoner/surfer dude Jeff Spicoli, Phoebe Cates as Linda Barrett and Ray Walston (somehow not out of place among the youthful ensemble) as Spicoli's history teacher and nemesis, Mr. Hand. The movie also marks the film debuts of Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz and Nicolas Cage (billed under his original name, Nicholas Coppola). Will an edited-for-television version make good Saturday viewing? Barely. The relevance and importance are reserved for the DVD.
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