Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston
SUMMARY: The Ridgemont Mall is staffed by a number of teenagers who are getting ready to go back to school. They include Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold), a senior who works at All American Burger; his girlfriend Lisa, also a senior who works at All American Burger; Brad’s sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a sophomore who works in a pizza parlor; her best friend, Linda, a senior who works at the pizza parlor; Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), a sophomore who works at the movie theater; his best friend, and slightly older Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), who scalps concert tickets. Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), another sophomore, is frequently present at the mall, but is more interested in surfing and drugs than working. At the start of the school year, Brad believes everything is going his way: he has a car, is well-liked by his job manager, and has a girlfriend. He has decided to break up with this girlfriend, so that he can play the field before leaving for college. His sister, Stacy, is also having relationship problems, in that she is desperate to have a boyfriend. Linda, who is dating an older guy, gives Stacy lots of advice (most of it sexual). When a 26-year-old man named Ron Johnson comes to the pizza parlor, Linda encourages Stacy to flirt with him. After he calls her, Stacy sneaks out of her house to go with him one night: they end up at a softball field, where they have sex in a dugout. The next day, Ron sends Stacy flowers, but after that, she never hears from him again. She voices both her emotional and physical concerns to Linda, who reassures her that Ron was a jerk. Meanwhile, Mark, called “Rat” by his friends, develops a crush on Stacy during their shared biology class. Encouraged by his friend Damone, the self-proclaimed expert on women, Rat asks Stacy out to eat. She accepts, and after a slightly awkward date, they return to her house. They start kissing, but when Stacy tries to push things further, Rat panics and leaves. Brad gets into trouble one day at his job when he loses his cool with a rude customer; he is immediately fired. After this, Brad reconsiders his decision to dump his girlfriend, but the relationship ends anyway when she breaks things off. He gets a new job at another fast-food restaurant, but soon quits because he hates the ridiculous uniform. Eventually, he gets a job at a convenience store.
A frequent source of amusement for Stacy (and Brad while at work) is Jeff Spicoli, a stereotypical “stoner dude” whose main interests are surfing and drugs. This attitude quickly puts him on the wrong side of history teacher Mr. Hand, who despises lateness, laziness, and ambivalence – essentially, everything that Jeff is. The two butt heads all year, often with comedic results for the rest of the class. Spicoli proves to be not quite as dumb as he looks: when he goes joyriding in the star football player’s car (with the player’s younger brother) and wrecks the car, he paints pro-Lincoln (the rival school) and anti-Ridgemont graffiti on the car, then leaves it in front of the school. The star player falls for the trick completely, and is so incensed that he completely dominates the rival team. Meanwhile, Stacy has decided that Rat’s hesitance with her is because he does not like her, so she decides to go after his best friend, Damone. She invites Damone over to her house, then has sex with him in the pool house. Damone then also ignores her, until a month later she tells him that she is pregnant. He agrees to pay for half of an abortion, as well as take Stacy to and from the clinic, but on the scheduled day, he fails to show up. Stacy catches a ride with Brad, telling him that she is going bowling, but Brad figures things out. When the abortion is over, he is waiting in the parking lot to take her home, promising not to tell their parents. When Linda hears that Damone did not keep his word, she is furious: she paints “Prick” on the side of his car, and “Little Prick” on his locker, which is right by the girl’s bathroom. Unfortunately, this also alerts Rat to what has happened between Damone and Stacy, and he challenges Damone to a fight in the locker room. As the school year ends and the seniors graduate, a dance is held to celebrate. Jeff is all set to go when Mr. Hand shows up at his house. Mr. Hand claims that Jeff wasted 8 hours of class time during the year, and he has come to collect that time: he then sits down and drills the entire history course into Jeff’s head. Finally, he allows Jeff to go to the dance with his friends. At the dance, Linda reads Stacy a letter she wrote to her ex-boyfriend, whom she broke up with because he wouldn’t come to the dance with her. Rat and Damone put their differences aside, and become friends again. After Jeff leaves the dance, he goes to the convenience store where Brad works. There, he witnesses Brad thwarting a robbery of the store, which results in Brad’s promotion to manager. A few days after the end of the year, Stacy and Rat reconnect at work, and this time start a longer-lasting relationship. An epilogue states that Jeff saved Brooke Shields from drowning, and spent the reward money hiring Van Halen to play his birthday party; Linda went to college and moved in with her Abnormal Psychology professor; Damone was arrested for scalping Ozzy Osbourne tickets, and Mr. Hand continued to believe that everyone was on drugs.
MY TAKE: This movie is based on a book written by Cameron Crowe, which was in turn based off experiences he had when he went undercover at a high school on an assignment for Rolling Stone. This was almost hard for me to believe, because high school was nothing like that for me, but I’m putting it down to a major difference in time period (mine was much later, fyi) and geographic location (Midwest vs Southern California). The apparent heroine of the story is Stacy, who seems to spend most of her time trying to get boys to sleep with her. This is notable difference #1: when I went to high school, there was a rather unflattering name used for girls like this, and it was certainly nothing you aspired to be. Then again, everybody in this movie except for Rat, Jeff and Mr. Hand seems to be obsessed by sex. It was just a little odd to see a girl so eager to basically ruin her reputation. Naturally, she gets herself into trouble, which actually leads to one of the funnier parts of the movie. Linda blows a gasket when she finds out that Damone did not take Stacy to the clinic, and she makes that displeasure very well-known. Speaking of Jeff, this is noticeable difference #2: when I was in high school, anybody even suspected of doing drugs would be removed from class immediately; if they wasted time in class, they would also be removed; finally, they would never in a million years actually manage to get a pizza delivered to them in class. Frankly, this all makes the movie seem unbelievable to me, but then again, it was a vastly different time period. However realistic, Jeff’s antics steal the show, and you have to appreciate his perpetual sun-baked look of incomprehension, marked by brief periods of brilliance. What’s even more impressive is that Sean Penn went on to win two Oscars. This movie is also a bit of a who-became-who game. Sean Penn is the obvious one, but Forest Whitaker (Jefferson, the football player whose car Jeff wrecks), Anthony Edwards (one of Jeff’s friends — not the red-haired one) and Nicolas Cage (credited for the only time in his career as Nicolas Coppola) all make appearances. Forest Whitaker is pretty easy to figure out, but it’s harder to spot the other two, so I was pretty proud of myself when I did see Cage. Of the other main characters, Phoebe Cates, the star of what is usually agreed-upon “most paused movie scene ever”, went on to marry Kevin Kline (she also starred in Gremlins), and Judge Reinhold appeared in the Santa Clause movies – he plays the stepfather to Scott Calvin’s son, Charlie.