If anything sets Fast Times apart from the average nudie-cutie, it is its literary history. Cameron Crowe, one of the flashy, talented young writers of the hip publications, actually returned to highschool after reaching voting age and chronicled his year’s adventure there in a well-received book.
Adapting the book now for the screen, Crowe comes up with less. Compressed to fundamentals, the high-school characters of the 1980s aren’t that different from the 1950s.
There’s the virginal girl (Jennifer Jason Leigh) anxious to discover sex but still uncertain. There’s the post-virginal girl (Phoebe Cates) who’s discovered it times over times but still doesn’t understand it. And there are their male counterparts, the nerd (Brian Backer) and his cynical, experienced guide (Robert Romanus).
The nice thing is that Crowe and director Amy Heckerling have provided something pleasant to observe in all of these characters though they really are sadly lacking in anything gripping. All that said, the really good part of Fast Times is Sean Penn as a spaced-out, irresponsible surfer. As previously proved in Taps, Penn is a joy to watch at work, even when his role has no particular plot importance. Similarly, Judge Reinhold is terrific as a relatively straight kid working his way through various fast food jobs.