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Fast Times at Ridgemont High is turning 35. Learn it. Know it. Live it.

The now-iconic celebration of youth launched a lot of careers.

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Every weekend, we pick a movie you can stream that dovetails with current events. Old, new, blockbuster, arthouse: They’re all fair game. What you can count on is a weekend watch that sheds new light on the week that was. The movie of the week for August 6 through 12 is Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), which is available to stream on HBO Go or digitally rent on YouTube, Amazon, Vudu, iTunes, and Google Play.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is approaching middle age. The true classic of American high school movies — such a classic that the Library of Congress’s Film Registry deemed it worthy of official preservation — turns 35 years old on August 13.

Fast Times is one of those films that seems much more important in retrospect than it possibly could have felt at its release in 1982, when Roger Ebert, who liked some of the performances, still deemed it a “scuz-pit of a movie.”

Well, he wasn’t totally wrong. It’s anything but innocent. With adults almost entirely absent (except the notable exception of history teacher Mr. Hand), in between work and school the teenagers of Ridgemont High School drink, smoke, and screw without a care in the world. (At least until real life knocks.)

But while they all feel like slightly one-dimensional stereotypes — the nerd, the promiscuous cheerleader, the girl next door, the weird kid who always wears shades, the stoner — the kids of Ridgemont High originated from a semi-ethnographic work by Cameron Crowe, who was then just a freelance journalist for Rolling Stone. He went undercover at San Diego’s Clairemont High School for a year and wrote a (now out-of-print) book about the experience, which he then turned into the movie.

There are a lot of hilarious facts floating around the internet about the movie, my favorite of which is that its studio, Universal, originally wanted David Lynch to direct it — but Lynch turned down the opportunity because it wasn’t in his wheelhouse. Just imagine.

Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a movie about being young in the early 1980s — an experience that applies not only to its characters, but to its creative team and cast. This was Crowe’s feature screenwriting debut, after which he’d go on to make movies like Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous.

It was Amy Heckerling’s directorial debut, too; she’d eventually make movies like Clueless and Look Who’s Talking. (More recently, she’s directed episodes of TV, including the season finale of The Office’s first season, entitled “Hot Girl.”)

And the movie introduced a host of young actors who’d go on to be recognizable screen presences (and in some cases, sex symbols) well past the 1980s. Fast Times was Phoebe Cates’s second feature and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s fourth. Sean Penn, who played the unforgettable Spicoli, had been working for a few years before Fast Times, but the movie was most people’s introduction to him, and with good reason.

It was Judge Reinhold’s feature debut — he landed the role of Brad because he was Heckerling’s upstairs neighbor — as well as the debut for Nicolas Cage, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards.

Even Bruce Springsteen’s sister Pamela Springsteen has a minor role in the movie. Is there anything more ‘80s than that?

All that youth might be what makes Fast Times at Ridgemont High so endearing and iconic. So many of the people involved were fresh, at the start of their careers, with the whole world ahead of them. Many of them likely felt that familiar knot of anticipation as they walked onto set. Would this be the big one? Would this be their breakout moment?

That feeling, of course, is reminiscent of being in high school again.

Watch the trailer for Fast Times at Ridgemont High:

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