A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fast Times at Ridgemont High explores several issues involved with being a teenager. Sex is a major topic of the film. There are several scenes of semi-nudity (topless girls) and frank discussions between characters about sex. Featured in the film is a fifteen-year-old girl becoming pregnant and having an abortion, simulated oral sex using produce, and a male character masturbating. The film treats the topic of sex seriously, though, and does not glorify or advocate casual sex. There is also a significant amount of drug use, as one of the main characters attends class frequently under the influence of marijuana, and smokes it on-screen, however, with consequences. There is some strong language.
What's the story?
Based on Cameron Crowe's book, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH is a satisfying portrait of teen life. The film shows a number of teenagers over the course of one school year. They fall in and out of love, work menial jobs, and attend school. Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) looks to her best friend Linda (Phoebe Cates) for advice on love and sex. Stacy's brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) is at the top of his game, with a lovely girlfriend and a job. Rat (Brian Backer) courts Stacy with often disastrous results. Jeff Spicoli's (Sean Penn) concerns are mainly surfing, smoking pot, and passing Mr. Hand's brutal American History class. Believable complications arise, as Brad loses his job and his girl in the course of one week, Stacy loses her virginity with troubling results, and Spicoli fails history.
Is it any good?
It's easy for movies to exaggerate or misinterpret teen life, but Fast Times does not. Crowe posed as a high school student while researching his book and it shows. Issues such as peer pressure, clashes with teachers at school, and the sheer boredom of after-school jobs are portrayed with humor and even-handedness. Problems are neither black nor white. Actions have consequences, (although, not in an after school special kind of way). Both Crowe and Director Amy Heckerling show genuine respect for their characters and refuse to belabor obvious points about life, love and growing up; instead letting the viewer make up their own minds.
Fast Times might appeal to girls in the tween set. However, parents should know that adult themes concerning drugs and sexuality featured in the film make it inappropriate for children under sixteen. Parents might want to view the film separately from their teens (for fear of embarrassment on both sides).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how, as the characters in Fast Times at Ridgemont High explore new territory in romance and friendships, they see the good and bad in equal measure. What are some of the dangers of growing up? What are some the rewards?
The film celebrates friendships and a growing bond between a brother and sister. What is important in a successful relationship? How do people damage and repair friendships?
This film also provides an excellent opportunity for parents and children to discuss peer pressure concerning sex and drug use. How realistic do you think the the portrayal of teen sex was? Do you think Stacey regrets how she lost her virginity? How does Spicoli's marijuana use affect his performance in history class? Do you think he deserved to miss the prom in favor of a history lesson?
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