This is a bodacious high school comedy and coming of age story that captures the youth and dramas of teens, that feels exciting and has good, not overly long winded touches of emotion concerning the growing pains of these characters. This film also succeeds in creating a world you want to jump into, it makes me wish I experienced that American school year lifestyle, especially the 80’s party swinging atmosphere shown in this movie.
A brilliant first directorial outing for Amy Heckerling who manages to shine a magnifying glass over work, play and studies of a small core of high schoolers, from weed and surf obsessed slacker Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) to the will they won’t they awkward attentions of Mark ‘Rat’ Ratner (Brian Backer) and Linda (Phoebe Cates). Mixed up in that is the strained career hopping of Brad (Judge Reinhold) and the confident talkers/sexual partners that are Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) and Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
All the characters have believable traits and you can invest in their trials and tribulations whether you like them or not, that’s a sign of good writing and kudos Cameron Crowe for taking his novel and adapting it into a fun yet accurate portrayal of high school lives. Each character has a moment or two to step out and take the spotlight leaving you learning something extra about them, even the teachers have a chance to get some funnies or crack wise, Mr. Hand is a prime example of showing how a high school film doesn’t need to take one side, pupils and teachers both have a need to get their sides shown. The only slight negativity is the way that ‘Rat’ and Mike resolve the icky sticky situation that occurs and I would have liked to see more of Stacy….not in that way, there’s hints that blossom slowly about her character thanks to interactions with other people involved with her and it would have been nice to see a softer more true side to her, letting the facade drop could have been a fantastic dramatic option to give but it doesn’t happen sadly.
It’s a very well made and cool film with comedy playing a central and key part to the developments of these people as you both laugh at them and laugh with them. Imagery at certain times are brilliant, the awkward first date between ‘Rat’ and Linda is cringe but fantastic, even just the opening sight of seeing them both dwarfed by humongous chairs in the restaurant to the non-diagetic noises of terror as the waitress comes for the bill with a worried Ratner wallet-less. Their are some great lines of coaching or sharp observation that stem from either Stacy, Mike or Mr. Hand. Then there’s the visual and acting comedy of Penn as Spicoli who encapsulates the layabout student so much that it made me remember the sounds and sights of my time in school with certain slackers in mind.
It’s an energetic soundtrack to work with the frantic bustle of the Ridgemont Mall and the hustle of their school, from the emphatic percussion and squeals of The Go Go’s’ ‘We Got the Beat’ that runs over the pacy opening to the funny snippet of a Led Zeppelin track that Rat uses to try and be smooth. It’s a collection of songs that blend with the action so well that it becomes part of the film never really making you realise it’s there, a good thing I believe as it doesn’t take us out of the movie.
Sean Penn is so in the zone as Jeff Spicoli that it makes me wonder whether he went method and actually got high for the part or is just Penn and a great actor truly making you think he’s a skiving stoner. It’s a gnarly performance to watch though he flips the comedy of Jeff as a dumbnut on the head with certain looks in his eyes making you feel that he realises he’s doing wrong or not helping himself that stops just shy of making him a tragic character. Jennifer Jason Leigh looks utterly gorgeous in the film and sells the sure and sex smart character of Stacy beautifully that it feels like some twist or crash in the plot when you come to see she might not be so educated. The same goes for Romanus as Mike who is cocksure, excuse the word choice considering his character’s journey but then he displays that other angle of human emotion making us see beneath the show and see a more frightened unsure guy. Every player in this film works as their character really well to make the film come to life.
Apart from it not being as astounding as there was room for, I thoroughly enjoyed it and if you compare it to the coma inducing film that is ‘Dazed and Confused’ then this film is an ace in the pack. The end credit what happened next titles for the characters are naff and not funny to be honest, some character work could have been explored more but all in all this film is classic, sensitive and funny.