Ah, 1973 in the San Fernando Valley! I remember it well. Muscle cars, mini-skirts, rock ‘n’ roll on the radio, the gas crisis, record stores, pimply faces, rotary phones, pinball arcades, high school, and it’s all captured in this coming-of-age film.
Written & directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, who loves the Valley so much he puts it in most of his films like Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and Punch-Drunk Love. Here he delivers another winning, scattershot, and quirky film that has almost no name stars, but rather actors that look like ordinary people plucked from the streets. Making his film debut is Cooper Hoffman, son of the late, great, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Cooper plays the lovable, but always wanting more Gary Valentine, a 15-year-old sometime actor with loads of ideas and visions. He’s also smitten with 22-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim, also in her film debut) who is smart, determined, and doesn’t like teenagers or creepy people. In other words, they aren’t right for each other.
Naturally, these two form an on-again, off-again, love/hate relationship that spans many months of wild adventures in the Valley. After Gary shows off his acting talents to Alana, he introduces her to his agent (a very funny Harriet Samson Harris) and that leads to Alana meeting the vain superstar, Jack Holden (Sean Penn). But after Gary sees a brand-new waterbed, he starts to sell them, with Alana giving him sound business advice. He even sells one to bi-polar and excessively violent film producer Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper in a way over the top extended cameo).
But after that business venture, Gary gets an idea for a pinball arcade (before there were video game arcades, remember those?) from Alana, who starts volunteer work for the Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie) Mayoral campaign. And through all the craziness, these two get together, split, get back together, try to form some kind of romance, split again, and argue a lot. Y’know, like in real life. In all of this, the world spinning around them is brought to you from the mind of Anderson, who writes like he was taking down dictation. The dialogue is so simple, so real, I was wondering if there was even a script!
Adding to all this realism were the locations, like the Tail O’ The Cock restaurant, a real eaterie back in the 70’s, and the all-too-real & truly gaudy set decor of Alana’s home which, by the way, were inhabited by Alana’s parents and sisters who were played by her real-life parents and sisters! In fact, Anderson employed mostly his friends (like Maya Rudolph in a quick cameo) and people who had never done any acting before. Result? It all looks and feels SO real, almost like a home movie made by a teenager with his family & friends.
It’s witty, heartfelt, strange at times, has plot holes and storylines that go nowhere, a great soundtrack, and after a while, I started to feel that these weren’t characters, but real people living real lives that we, the audience, were privy to; a testament to the creative genius that is Anderson. Fun Fact: there are many cameos, including John C. Reilly as Fred Gwynne/Herman Munster, Tim Conway, Jr., Leonardo DiCaprio’s dad, George, and Christine Ebersole playing a cantankerous version of Lucille Ball.
**Now showing in theaters only
Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)
Ah, the 80’s! Nothing says the 1980’s, high school, young love, and general hijinks like this cult favorite by the winning team of writer Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling. Crowe even did some extraordinary things to write the screenplay of this movie. Now, that’s commitment!
Welcome to Ridgemont High. It’s in this high school full of students, teachers, and multiple stories that we begin our tale. There are several students that make up the plot of this movie, like Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) a senior who not only gets dumped by his long-time girlfriend before he can dump her, but he’s just been fired from All American Burger. His naive little sister, Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is a slut, having sex with multiple partners–including the school sleaze-ball & ticket scalper, Mike Damone (Robert Romanus). However, she secretly likes the equally naive and innocent Mark “Rat” Ratner (Brian Backer) who sees Stacy as the girl of his dreams. . . but can barely speak to her.
Then you have the school’s resident cut-up, stoner, and slacker, Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) who is a royal pain in the side of super-strict teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston). Jeff even fantasies about surf competitions and gets in trouble alot, especially when he accidentally wrecks the brand new car of star line-backer, Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker). Don’t worry, he covers it up pretty well! As all these stories interconnect with each other, we also get a quick look at Brad’s buddy (a very young Nicholas Cage, billed as Nicholas Coppola) and a young Eric Stoltz as Spicoli’s smoking pal.
This movie has it all: comedy, satire, pathos, drama, abortion, young love gone wrong, heartbreak, and a kick-ass soundtrack. Crowe, who was a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, actually attended Claremont High School undercover as a student to get the inspiration and flavor of this script and it shows; it’s a perfect time capsule for the 1980’s, made even better by the terrific direction of Heckerling (Look Who’s Talking, Clueless). The actors, all nobodies at the time, were remarkable and many went on to have rewarding film careers, like Leigh, Reinhold, Whitaker, Penn, and Phoebe Cates.
And speaking of Cates, let’s not forget that she provides some unforgettable moments in the movie as Stacey’s BFF, Linda, but there’s not a single guy (or girl, for that matter) on the planet who can forget that one particular scene in the movie. Yeah, you know the one. In a fantasy dreamed up by Brad, Linda takes off her bikini top in slow-motion to the tune of The Cars, Moving In Stereo song. Wow. Just. Wow. Needless to say, this movie, released in the early 80’s, went ballistic at the box office, ranking one the highest-grossing films of that year.