Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Sometimes, the best part of a movie comes after it finishes- when we are told that it is based on a true story. A simple set of intertitles elevate the film and give its characters a sense of realism which it may not have managed to achieve within its run-time.

I am sure it must have been fairly easy for others to tell that Motorcycle Diaries was based on the life of Che Guevara, but I didn't realize it until the end. Everything fell in its place and character motivations suddenly made a lot more sense. What they went on to achieve in their later life often highlighted many attributes of their past which we witnessed. I got really bored the first time I saw American Graffiti and was even waiting for it to get over. But when it did, I was very moved just by learning the fact that those people actually existed. Does this happen to everyone? Do film-makers benefit from making a movie on real-life characters? Remember Fargo? 

If I find a lot of memorable characters, I usually consider the movie worth revisiting. Ridgemont High had them in abundance but they all meant very little to me until I came to know they were for real. Now that I do know, the movie appears a tad more interesting and worthy of a second viewing. We see a year in the life of a few people who go to the same school and work in the same mall. They are simply living and not necessarily doing things of great importance. The situations they find themselves in are not novel by any stretch. But the film thrives on the idiosyncrasies of its quirky characters. 

This is probably the first time I have seen Sean Penn being less of a morose motherfucker and having some serious fun. His stoned surfer character is my favorite in the film. The American History teacher Mr. Hand, the creepy Biology teacher, the "little prick" guy who trades tickets to concerts, the shy usher, the hot girl who prefers dating older men, the self-conscious girl, her nice-guy brother, the football jock played by Forest Whitaker.. they're all unforgettable. Would it have been any better had Cameron Crowe directed it himself? Maybe. It does not hold a candle to the generation-defining holy trinity of "end of high school" movies- American Graffiti, Dazed & Confused and Superbad. It is okay.