Book Review: Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff by Sean Penn


The debut novel of actor Sean Penn, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff basically reads as if it was written by someone who read the first thirty pages of Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and then thought, “I could do this!  How difficult can it be!?”  When the book first came out, several critics declared it to be the worst novel ever written but I don’t know if I’d go that far.  It may very well be the worst novel of 2018 but it’s not really memorable enough to deserve the grand title of worst ever.

It’s very much a debut novel, which is to say that there’s no plot, all of the characters have cutesy names, and it’s absurdly overwritten.  Penn really goes out of his way to let you know that he owns a thesaurus.  Making it somehow even more annoying is his habit of using footnotes to explain any word or acronym that he suspects that we, being mere readers, will not be able to understand.

As far as I can tell, each chapter is about whatever Penn was upset about on the day that he wrote it.  The first half of the novel is all about Bob Honey making money selling plumbing equipment to Jehovah’s Witnesses and murdering old people because old people take up too much space.  Though the entire book takes place in Honey’s mind, we’re never quite sure who Bob Honey is because Sean Penn himself doesn’t seem to know.  Penn came up with a silly name and a stupid career and some random quirks and then I presume he forced his friends to read the first few chapters.

“Did you like it?” Penn asked.

“Uhmmm…” his friends replied, “It’s …. uhmmm … interesting….”

“I know!  It really is!”

The second half of the book was written after Trump was elected President because Bob Honey suddenly goes from being apolitical and ennui-stricken to suddenly being really pissed off that the country has been taken over by “The Landlord.”  Suddenly, Bob Honey is a woke assassin and you get the feeling that if Hillary Clinton had won, Penn never wouldn’t have had any idea how to finish the book.  However, since Trump won, the book ends with a lengthy poem in which Penn mentions every political cause that he cares about, along with letting us know that he’s skeptical about #MeToo.  Thanks for sharing, Sean.

It’s a strange book because, on the one hand, Penn seems desperate to let us all know how woke and anti-Trump he is but, at the same time, it’s hard to read Bob Honey and not come away with the impression that Sean Penn really doesn’t like, trust, or respect women.  Every woman who appears in the book is either ridiculed for being simple-minded or portrayed as being inherently evil.  Honey is obsessed with his ex-wife, who drives an ice cream truck, for some reason.  I kept expecting some sort of scene between Bob and his ex-wife but no.  Instead, Honey just sees her truck and then let’s us know that everything’s basically her fault.  It appears that the only reason she’s in the book is so Sean Penn can yell, “Ice cream truck!  YOU GET IT!?  ICE CREAM TRUCK!  SYMBOLISM, YOU RED  STATE PHILISTINES!”  There is only one vaguely positive female character in the book but she’s only present in flashbacks and Penn spends more time talking about her vagina than her personality.  Plus, she’s described as being hairless because … reasons, I guess.  The book comes across as if Penn wrote it in between jerking off to his whore/madonna complex.

As I said, there’s really no plot.  Bob Honey gets annoyed.  A reporter bothers Bob Honey.  Bob Honey thinks about how much he hates women.  Bob Honey goes to Baghdad during the Iraq War.  Bob Honey goes to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.  Basically, it’s a tour of places and things that Sean Penn has never experienced but which he has probably considered making a movie about.

(And, to give credit where credit is due, the books reads like something Uwe Boll would have vomited onto the screen.)

Here’s the thing: if you wrote this book, you wouldn’t be able to get it published and people would probably take your obsession with finding a hairless lover as evidence that you should be on a sex offenders list.  Because Sean Penn is Sean Penn, he gets his book published and then gets to appears on talk shows to defend the stupid thing.  If you’re a real writer (as opposed to someone who just woke up one day and said, “I’m going to write a book!”) and that doesn’t leave you outraged, then you’re not paying attention.  Because as bad as Bob Honey is, Sean Penn’s second novel will probably be published as well.  While you’re working hard on a fourth rewrite, Sean Penn will be appearing on Colbert and promoting Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff Part 2.

A lot of people have held up Bob Honey as evidence of Sean Penn’s stupidity.  I don’t think he’s so much stupid as he’s just insecure.  A common theme when it comes to anything that Sean Penn does appears to be a desire to be known as more than just a good actor.  As a result, Penn directs overwrought movies that take themselves too seriously.  (I mean, I liked Into the Wild but, even while watching that film, it seemed like a minor miracle that Penn restrained his instinct toward pretension just enough not to blow it.)  He goes on talk shows and insists that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Hugo Chavez was a great guy and people in Venezuela are really, really happy.  He takes it upon himself to let Oscar viewers know that “Jude Law is one of our finest actors” and he sends angry, profane notes to the creators of South Park.  And, of course, he ends up writing books like Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff.  “Look, world,” Penn seems to be shouting with all of this, “I’m complicated!  There’s more to me than you think!”

And you have to wonder: why not just take joy in being really, really good at what you actually can do?  Sean Penn’s performance in Milk probably did more for the cause of human rights than any book he could ever write or speech he could ever give.  And yet, apparently, that’s not enough.

We need good actors who are willing to give performances in films that might otherwise not get made without a “name” in the cast.

We don’t need a sequel to Bob Honey.

Hopefully, Sean Penn will rediscover his love of acting before writing one.

A Movie A Day #337: Colors (1988, directed by Dennis Hopper)


Los Angeles in the 80s.  Beneath the California glamour that the rest of America thinks about when they think about L.A., a war is brewing.  Bloods vs Crips vs the 21st Street Gang.  For those living in the poorest sections of the city, gangs provide everything that mainstream society refuses to provide: money, a chance to belong, a chance to advance.  The only drawback is that you’ll probably die before you turn thirty.  Two cops — veteran Hodges (Robert Duvall) and rookie McGavin (Sean Penn) — spend their days patrolling a potential war zone.  Hodges tries to maintain the peace, encouraging the gangs to stay in their own territory and treat each other with respect.  McGavin is aggressive and cocky, the type of cop who seems to be destined to end up on the evening news.  With only a year to go before his retirement, Hodges tries to teach McGavin how to be a better cop while the gangs continue to target and kill each other.  The cycle continues.

Colors was one of the first and best-known of the “modern gang” films.  It was also Dennis Hopper’s return to directing, 17 years after the notorious, drug-fueled disaster of The Last Movie.  Hopper took an almost documentary approach to Colors, eschewing, for the most part, melodrama and instead focusing on the day-to-day monotony of life in a war zone.  There are parts of Colors that are almost deliberately boring, with Hodges and McGavin driving through L.A. and trying to stop trouble before it happens.  Hopper portrays Hodges and McGavin as being soldiers in a war that can’t be won, combatants in a concrete Vietnam.  Colors is nearly 20 years old but it holds up.  It’s a tough and gritty film that works because of the strong performances of Duvall and Penn.  The legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler vividly captures the harshness of life in the inner city.  Actual gang members served as extras, adding to the film’s authentic, documentary feel.  Among the actors playing gang members, Don Cheadle, Trinidad Silva, Glenn Plummer, and Courtney Gains all make a definite impression.  In a small but important role, Maria Conchita Alonso stands in for everyone who is not a cop and who is not a gang member but who is still trapped by their endless conflict.

One person who was not impressed by Colors was future director John Singleton.  Boyz ‘n The Hood was largely written as a response to Colors‘s portrait of life in South Central Los Angeles.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #103: 21 Grams (dir by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)


21_grams_movieRemember how shocked a lot of us were when we first saw Birdman?  Well, it wasn’t just because Birdman featured an underwear-clad Michael Keaton levitating in his dressing room.  And it also wasn’t just because Birdman was edited to make it appear as if it had been filmed in one continuous take (though, to be honest, I would argue that the whole “one continuous shot” thing added little to the film’s narrative and was more distracting than anything else.)  No, the main reason we were shocked was that Birdman was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and, when we thought of an Inarritu film, we thought of something like 2003’s 21 Grams.

It’s not easy to explain the plot of 21 Grams, despite the fact that 21 Grams does not tell a particularly complicated story.  In fact, if anything, the plot of 21 Grams feels like something that either Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray could have come up with in the 50s.  Indeed, the plot of 21 Grams is far less important than the way the Inarritu tells the story.  (In that, the dark and grim 21 Grams does have something in common with the arguably comedic Birdman.)

Inarritu tells his story out of chronological order.  That, in itself, is nothing spectacular.  Many directors use the same technique.  What distinguishes 21 Grams is the extreme to which Inarritu takes his non-chronological approach.  Scenes play out with deceptive randomness and it is left to the viewer to try to figure out how each individual scene fits into the film’s big picture.  As you watch 21 Grams, you find yourself thankful for little details like Sean Penn’s beard, the varying lengths of Naomi Watts’s hair, and the amount of sadness in Benicio Del Toro’s eyes because it’s only by paying attention to those little details can we piece together how once scene relates to another.

The film tells the story of three people whose lives are disrupted by the type of tragedies that the pre-Birdman Innaritu was best known for.

Sean Penn plays Paul Rivers, who is a sickly mathematician who desperately needs a new heart.  He’s married to a Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who devotes all of her time to taking care of him and is frustrated by Paul’s fatalistic attitude towards his condition.  When Paul does finally get a new heart, he gets a new existence but is haunted by the fact that it has come at the expense of another man’s life.

Christina Peck (played by Naomi Watts) is a former drug addict who is now married with kids and who appears to have the perfect life.  That is until her husband and children are tragically killed and, in her grief, Christina falls back into her old lifestyle.  The formerly stable and happy Christina becomes obsessed with the idea of getting revenge for all that she has lost.  Naomi Watts was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for her work here.  Her vulnerable and emotionally raw performance holds your interest, even when you’re struggling to follow the film’s jumbled chronology.

And finally, there’s Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro).  Like Christina, Jack is a former drug addict.  Whereas Christina used the stability of family life to help her escape from her demons, Jack uses his new-found Christianity.  And just as Christina struggles after she loses her family, Jack struggles after tragedy causes him to lose his faith.  Like Paul, he struggles with why he’s been allowed to live while other have not.  Del Toro was nominated for an Oscar here and, like Watts, he more than deserved the nomination.

(While Sean Penn was not nominated for his performance in 21 Grams, he still won the Oscar for his role in Mystic River.)

21 Grams is a powerful and deeply sad film, one that will probably shock anyone who only knows Inarritu for his work on Birdman.  21 Grams is not always an easy film to watch.  Both emotionally and narratively, it’s challenging.  But everyone should accept the challenge.

 

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #69: Bad Boys (dir by Rick Rosenthal)


Bad_Boys_(1983_film_poster)First off, I am not about to review the Michael Bay film where Will Smith and Martin Lawrence shoot people and blow things up.  Instead, this Bad Boys is a film from 1983 where Sean Penn doesn’t shoot anyone but that’s mostly because he can’t get his hands on a gun.  And, at one point, a radio does blow up.  So, perhaps this Bad Boys has more in common with the Michael Bay Bad Boys than I originally realized.

Anyway, Bad Boys is about Mick O’Brien (Sean Penn), who is a 16 year-old criminal from Chicago.  One night, when one of his crimes goes wrong, Mick’s best friend (Alan Ruck) is killed and Mick accidentally runs over the brother of rival gang leader, Paco (Esai Morales).  Mick is sent to juvenile detention where he and his sociopathic cellmate, Horowitz (Eric Gurry), team up to overthrow the two “leaders” of their block, Viking (Clancy Brown, with scary blonde hair) and Tweety (Robert Lee Rush).  Meanwhile, Paco is arrested for raping Mick’s girlfriend, JC (Ally Sheedy), and soon finds himself living on the same cell block as Mick.

And it all leads to … violence!

(In the movies, everything leads to violence.)

Bad Boys is one of those films that seems to show up on cable at the most random of times.  I’ve never quite understood why because it’s not like Bad Boys is a particularly great film.  It’s hard to see anything about this film that would lead a programmer to say, “Let’s schedule 100 airings of Bad Boys!”  If anything, it’s the epitome of a good but not that good film.  On the one hand, you have to appreciate a film that attempts to take a serious look at both juvenile crime and the true life consequences of tossing every “lawbreaker” into a cell and locking the door.  People fetishize the idea of punishing criminals but they rarely consider whether those punishments actually accomplish anything beyond satisfying society’s obsessive need for revenge.  (And it’s interesting to note that the problems of 1983 are not that much different from the problems of 2015.)  On the other hand, Bad Boys is way too long, heavy-handed, and repetitive.  This was one of Sean Penn’s first roles and, much like the film itself, he’s good without being that good.  Watching his performance, you get the feeling that James Dean would say, “Nice try.”

However, the film is saved by two actor.  First off, there’s Clancy Brown as the stupid but intimidating Viking.  With his bad skin, blonde hair, and a permanent snarl on his face, Brown makes Viking into a character who is both ludicrous and scary.  And then there’s Eric Gurry as the small and demonic Horowitz.  According to his imdb page, Gurry long ago retired from acting but anybody who sees Bad Boys will never forget him.

My Extremely Late Review of The 87th Oscars


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This did not happen at the Oscars last night.

I really don’t know what’s wrong with me.

As I’ve made it clear many times in the past, I basically build my year around the Oscars.   I always get together with my friends and family and I force them to watch the entire ceremony with me.  Wherever I’ve lived, the Oscars have always been a national holiday.

As with any holiday, there are traditions.  To cite just one example, every year there comes the moment when I suddenly realize that Meryl Streep looks exactly like this stuck-up rich woman from Highland Park who, back in 2oo1, was so rude to my mom that she made her cry and that’s why I’ve never liked Meryl as much as some of my fellow movie bloggers.  And, of course, once I realize that, I have to tell the story to everyone else in the room.  Part of the tradition is to continue telling the story even after everyone says, “We’ve heard this story a million times, Lisa.”

Another part of the tradition is to start out with hope that something unexpected will happen.  “Oh my God,” I’ll say at some point, “maybe such-and-such movie is going to pull an upset!”  Then, an hour later, comes the tradition of realizing that there aren’t going to be any upsets and everything’s going to play out the exact way that everyone said it would.

One of the newer traditions is that, after every Oscar ceremony, I write a review and I post it here on Through the Shattered Lens. But, somehow, this year, I nearly forgot about that tradition.  Perhaps it’s because we got hit by a lot of sleet and ice last night and, as a result, I could neither go to work nor go dancing tonight.  And, don’t get me wrong,  I’ve had a lot of fun hanging around the house and being lazy today.  But it was still a pretty big change from my usual routine.  It threw me off and perhaps that’s why I’m only now getting around to reviewing the Oscar ceremony.

Then again, it could just be that last night’s ceremony was not that interesting.  I thought that Neil Patrick Harris was a good host but, in retrospect, that has more to do with his own natural charisma of a performer than with anything he actually did.  I liked his little bit about getting Octavia Spencer to keep an eye on his predictions but that was mostly because Octavia herself is such a good performer.  (Octavia is also an Oscar winner who has the talent to do a lot more than just playing a supporting role on a TV show.)

I loved Margot Robbie’s dress.  But I have to say that it really bothered me that there weren’t any true fashion disasters to be seen last night.  That’s part of the fun of the Oscars, spotting the celebs that can’t dress themselves.  When everyone looks good, the show’s a lot less interesting.

As far as the acceptance speeches were concerned, some of them were good.  But I have to admit that I always cringe a little when I see a celeb at an awards show give a politically charged speech because, as committed as they may be, they never seem to be quite sincere.  Instead, they come across as if they’re just playing another role.  What I really wish is that, instead of Bustle and Jezebel posting a hundred articles about how much Meryl Streep loved Patricia Arquette’s speech on incoming inequality, those same media outlets would actually give as much attention to the women who actually have to deal with the issue on a daily basis.  My mom had to raise four headstrong daughters on her own.  She knew more about the sad reality of income inequality than Meryl Streep ever will.  But nobody’s ever going to illustrate a story on income inequality with an animated gif of a woman, like my mom, working hard at multiple jobs, getting paid less than her male coworkers, coming home exhausted, and still managing to be there for her daughters.  Instead, we’ll just get a hundred memes of Meryl shouting “Yes,” all used to illustrate stories that insist it was a “perfect” moment.

(Because what better symbol for the fight against wage inequality than a rich white woman at an awards show?)

My question to Hollywood political activists is this: Are you actually going to try to change things or are you just going to pat yourself on the back for giving a speech at an awards show?  Because you people have given a lot of speeches and made a lot of politically-themed movies but the problems are still here.

As far as the awards themselves — I have to admit that I was not as big a fan of Birdman as some people were.  For a few minutes, I was excited because I thought that Whiplash might pull an upset.  But no, in the end, Birdman won.  I liked Alejandro Inarritu’s previous Oscar-nominated film, Babel.  But, beyond respecting it as a technical achievement, Birdman just didn’t do much for me and neither did Inarritu’s acceptance speech.

But you know who really didn’t do anything for me?

Sean Penn.

First off, if you’re going to be presenting best picture, try to take a shower before you go out on stage.  Don’t show up looking like you’re covered in a week’s worth of grime.  Looking at Sean Penn last night, I could only imagine that he probably reeked of stale cigarettes and strong body odor.  Seriously, if the Academy needed someone unwashed to hand out the biggest award of the night, they could have followed the lead of the Golden Globes and called Johnny Depp.

And then, when Penn opened the envelope, he couldn’t just announce that Birdman had won.  Instead, he had to make a joke about Inarritu’s green card.  Inarritu is the first Mexican to direct a best picture winner and Sean Penn, a man who considers himself to be enough of an expert on South America that he actually think he has the right to tell the people of Venezuela how to vote, just had to make that green card joke.  My mom was half-Spanish and had to endure her share of green card jokes (despite being a native-born American citizen).  I know the pain that jokes like that caused her and, when Sean Penn made that joke, it was a slap in the face to Latinos everywhere.  Shame on you, Sean Penn.

As far as pendejos like Sean Penn are concerned — ¡Estoy hasta el coño!

As far as Lady Gaga’s Sound of Music tribute was concerned … well, let’s just be honest.  Lady Gaga was great but The Sound of Music is probably one of the most undeserving best picture winners ever.  The Oscar should have gone to either Darling or Doctor Zhivago.

But, on a happier note, these Oscars also allowed me to make my E! debut!  Check out this screen shot:

B-e7UMLIUAA9a7VSo, the 87th Academy Awards are over with.  Here’s hoping the 88th Academy Awards are a bit more fun!

Shattered Politics #83: Milk (dir by Gus Van Sant)


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For the past three weeks, I have been in the process of reviewing, in chronological order, 94 films about politics and politicians.  It’s a little something that we call Shattered Politics.

And while I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, it does worry me a bit that I may have made the Shattered Lens into a far more cynical site to visit.  That’s largely because I don’t trust politicians or the government in general and, despite the fact that we started off with Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, the majority of the films that I’ve reviewed have reflected that fact.

So, in order to combat that cynicism, I’m going to recommend a film from 2008 that, despite being a biopic about a politician, is actually rather inspiring.  I am, of course, talking about the 2008 best picture nominee, Milk.

Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk who, in 1977, became the first openly gay man to be elected to a major public office.  Now, just consider that.  Up until 38 years ago, nobody who was openly gay had been elected to public office.  Nowadays, the idea of an out gay man or a lesbian running for public office is only shocking to a dwindling minority of homophobes.  Even down here Texas, which everyone up north always smugly assumes to be so intolerant, nobody is surprised when a gay or a lesbian not only runs for office but wins as well.  Sheriff Lupe Valdez has served as sheriff of Dallas Country for over ten years and, though she’s been controversial, none of that controversy has concerned her sexuality.  Meanwhile, Annise Parker has served three-terms as mayor of Houston, making Houston the biggest city in America to have an openly gay mayor.

However, before Lupe Valdez could be sheriff or Annise Parker could be mayor, Harvey Milk had to serve on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Milk follows Harvey (Sean Penn, who won an Oscar for his performance) and his much younger boyfriend, Scott (James Franco) from the moment they first meet in New York to when they moved to San Francisco in 1970.  We see how Harvey first found fame as a neighborhood activist and how he challenged both the political and gay establishment of San Francisco in his campaigns for political office.  When he finally wins a seat on the Board of Supervisors, he does so at the cost of his relationship with Scott.  He enters into another relationship with the self-destructive Jack (Diego Luna), which ends tragically.

By winning office, Harvey becomes a spokesman for gays everywhere.  When a sinister state senator (Denis O’Hare) attempts to pass a bill that would forbid gays from teaching school, Harvey leads to opposition.  And, while Harvey’s career continues to rise, the career of another supervisor — Dan White (Josh Brolin) — plummets.

Elected at the same time as Harvey, Dan is an uptight former cop.  Though he and Harvey originally strike a somewhat awkward friendship (Harvey is the only supervisor to come to the christening of Dan’s child), Dan soon comes to resent Harvey.  (At one point, Harvey suggests that Dan might be closeted and Brolin’s tightly coiled performance certainly implies that Dan is repressing something.)  Eventually, Dan shoots and kills both the mayor (Victor Garber) and Harvey.

Though the film ends in violence and anger, it also ends with hope.  Though Harvey may be dead, the activists that he inspired are there to carry on.

Because the film was directed by a gay man, written by a gay man, and tells the story of a gay man, Milk is often dismissed, even by critics who liked it, as just being a gay film.  But, actually, it is a film that should inspire anyone who has ever felt like they’ve been pushed into the margins of our national culture.  By the film’s end, Harvey Milk has emerged as not just a gay hero but as a hero to anyone who has ever been told that their voice does not matter.  When Harvey says, repeatedly, “You’ve got to give them hope,” it’s hope for all of us.

Back to School #27: Fast Times At Ridgemont High (dir by Amy Heckerling)


Mike Damone

Mike Damone

Mike Damone, you little prick.

I’ve watched the 1982 high school dramedy Fast Times At Ridgemont High a handful of times.  I’ve reached the point where, every time I watch it, I know exactly what’s going to happen.  I know when stoner Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) is going to order pizza.  I know that Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker) is going to go crazy during the big game against Lincoln High.  I know that when Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) kisses the sweet but shy Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), he’s going to end up panicking and scrambling for an excuse to go home.  I know that Brad (Judge Reinhold) is going to get caught masturbating.  I even know when Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, and Eric Stoltz are all going to appear in early performances.

Nicolas Cage, 30 years before he would agree to star in a remake of Left Behind.

Nicolas Cage, 30 years before he would agree to star in a remake of Left Behind.

In other words, I know exactly what’s going to happen.

But, Mike Damone (played, very well, by Robert Romanus, who is only an actor and shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of a fictional character) — every time, I find myself hoping you’ll do the right thing and every time, you let me down.

Oh sure.  I know that you tried to raise the money to help pay for Stacy’s abortion.  I saw the scene of you on the phone in your bedroom, begging people to finally pay for the tickets that you’d sold them.  I know that you tried but when you couldn’t get the money, where were you?  When Stacy had to ask her older brother, Brad, for a ride to the clinic, where were you?  After Stacy left the clinic, she found Brad waiting for her.  Brad agreed not to ask Stacy who had gotten her pregnant.  He agreed not to tell their parents.  Brad was there for his sister.  Where were you, Mike Damone?

What really upsets me is that, up until you abandoned Stacy, you were one of the more likable characters in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.  I mean, sure — you didn’t get to deliver any classic lines like Spicoli did.  And you weren’t adorably shy like Mark.  But, Mike Damone — I believed in you!  We all believed in you!  (Imagine me doing my best Tyra Banks imitation here.)  You were a cocky guy who spent all of your time selling concert tickets at the mall but you know what?  We all assumed that, underneath all of the attitude, there secretly lurked a good guy.  I mean, we could tell that you sincerely cared about your friend Mark and, because we’re all fools apparently, we even thought that maybe Stacy could bring out the real you.  When Stacy sat there writing “Mrs. Stacy Damone” on her test paper in history class, we understood.  Because, after all, we’ve all had a Mike Damone in our life.

Rat and Mike

Rat and Mike

But then, what happened?  Well, first, you had sex with Stacy despite the fact that you knew Mark liked her.  Of course, for all your bluster and talk, it turned out that sex with Mike Damone amounted to 2 minutes of squirming followed by that classic line, “I think I came.”  And then you left, saying those words that every girl dreams of hearing from someone she’s just been with: “I’ll see you around.”  (Or maybe you said, “I’ll give you a call,” or “I’ve got to go now.”  Either way, it was a pretty shitty thing to say, Damone.)

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As you may have guessed, Fast Times At Ridgemont High is not your typical teen comedy.  In fact, over three decades since it was first released, it remains one of the best and most perceptive films about teenagers ever made.  Over on the A.V. Club, Keith Phipps refers to Fast Times as being “a Trojan horse of a teen comedy that balanced lowbrow gags with subtle humor, genuine insight .. and pathos,” and that’s such a perfect description that I’m not at all ashamed to repeat it word-for-word here.

Don’t get me wrong.  Though Fast Times At Ridgemont High has a lot more drama than you would expect from a film with the words “Fast Times” in the title, it’s also an undeniably funny film.  It’s just that, unlike so many other teen comedies, the comedy comes from a very real place.  This is one of those rare films where the characters are funnier than the situations that they find themselves in.  You laugh because you relate to the characters.  (Admitedly, you might also laugh at what some of them are wearing.  Mike Damone’s keyboard print scarf comes to mind…)

Hey I Know That Guy

Spicoli and Hand

Like many classic teen films — American Graffiti, Fame and Dazed and Confused, to cite just three obvious examples — Fast Times At Ridgemont High is an ensemble piece that follows several different students as they survive a year at Ridgemont High.  Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli is the character that everyone always mentions as a favorite and indeed, he does get the best lines and his battles with Mr. Hand (Ray Waltson) are definitely a highlight of the film.  People also always mention Linda (Pheobe Cates), who has a boyfriend in college and who walks in on Brad while he’s fantasizing about her.  And yes, Linda is a memorable character and not just because she bares her breasts during Brad’s fantasy.  She’s also Stacy’s best friend and I think we’ve all had a friend like Linda, someone who we looked up to and assumed had all the answers.  For that matter, Brad is also an interesting character and there’s something undeniably fascinating about watching as he goes from being a carefree, popular teen to being a guy working behind the counter at 7-11.

(If only Brad had not gotten Arnold that job at All-American Burger…)

Agck!

Agck!

However, for me, the film will always be about Stacy, if just because she’s the character to which I relate.  I know when I was 15, I felt a lot like Stacy and, every time I watch Fast Times, I feel like some of Stacy’s experiences could have been taken straight out of my diary.  I had the same combination of confidence and insecurity and the same questions about why boys could talk like men but never act like them.  Stacy, of course, is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh who gives a remarkably brave and vulnerable performance in this film.  Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you who won the Oscar for best supporting actress of 1982 but it doesn’t matter.  Jennifer Jason Leigh should have won it.

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Fast Times is often referred to as being a Cameron Crowe film, largely because Crowe famously went undercover at an actual high school while writing the book that served as the basis for his script.  And yes, Fast Times is filled with scenes and characters that feel undeniably Cameron Crowe-like.  However, Fast Times was directed by Amy Heckerling and thank God for that.  Heckerling brings a sensitive touch to material that a male director would be tempted to play solely for exploitation.  Cameron Crowe may have written the script but it’s definitely an Amy Heckerling film.

And, sorry, Mike Damone — you’re still a little prick.

Mike Damone, a.k.a. Little Prick

Mike Damone, a.k.a. Little Prick