“It’s probably the first film that didn’t condescend to American teenagers.”
So began Film Independent’s curator Elvis Mitchell as he introduced a special Live Read Thursday of Cameron Crowe’s script for the 1982 comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
“There wouldn’t be a John Hughes movie without it,” Mitchell continued.
The event concluded this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival with a one-night-only reading, chosen and directed by filmmaker Eli Roth, and performed exclusively for those present in the audience. As always, no recordings were allowed.
Roth is known for extreme horror films, so his selection of a teen comedy may have seemed surprising to some. But the 43-year old director is an avowed fan of ’80s high school movies like “Porky’s,” “The Last American Virgin” and “Zapped!” which made his choice almost inevitable.
“‘Fast Times’ is one of my all-time favorite movies,” Roth told the audience about the Amy Heckerling classic. “Most people call it a comedy, though I think it’s actually a drama.”
Catching himself, he quickly added, “but a funny as f— drama!”
To bring to Crowe’s screenplay to life, Roth cast an eclectic group of performers from film, music and social media.
Haley Joel Osment and Lily Collins read the roles of siblings Brad and Stacy Hamilton, originally played by Judge Reinhold and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Actress Lorenza Izzo played sexy Linda Barrett, a character made famous by Phoebe Cates in the movie, while comedian Kumail Nanjiani played ticket scalper Mike Damone. “Spy Kids” star Daryl Sabara portrayed sensitive dweeb Mark “Rat” Ratner.
Rounding out the cast were frequent Roth collaborator Aaron Burns, social-media celebrities Logan Paul and Nik Keswani as the quintessential stoner Jeff Spicoli and his younger brother Curtis.
In the most audacious casting of the night, firebrand rocker Courtney Love played the part of stern-yet-caring history teacher Mr. Hand.
Roth read the stage directions himself.
Since they weren’t given the script beforehand and had no rehearsals, the reading began somewhat awkwardly as the performers worked to find a rhythm with each other. Though it took some time, the cast eventually found their footing and a surprising amount of chemistry began to develop between them.
Bringing a winsome charm to her line readings, Collins shined as Stacy, portraying the character as noticeably less fragile than Leigh’s film version. Her scenes with Izzo, playing her slightly older and worldlier best friend, had a naturalness that made it seem as though the two had grown up together.
Similarly, the hesitant flirtation between Collins and Sabara, who graced the lovestruck Ratner with a welcome dose of heart, exhibited a tenderness that seemed to take the actors themselves by surprise.
Wearing a huge smile on his face for the duration of the evening, Osment appeared to be the most comfortable performer on stage. His interpretation of a good-natured high school senior stuck working one lousy job after another was a major highlight, and led to an unexpected surprise.
During the script’s embarrassing masturbation scene, which featured Osment being caught in mid-act by Izzo, the theater lights suddenly dimmed and the face of Judge Reinhold, the film’s original Brad, appeared on a large screen behind the actors.
“I’ll be watching,” Reinhold intoned with mock-seriousness as the audience applauded. Before the reading continued, Roth explained that Reinhold had recorded the video message especially for the event.
Dressed in a bright yellow tank top and flowered Bermuda shorts, Paul, the Vine star, portrayed the eternally-high Jeff Spicoli as a cross between a sleepy kindergartner and Matthew McConaughey. The effect was oddly endearing at times.
Paul’s best scenes were acted with Love, who imbued the uptight teacher Mr. Hand with an amusing degree of comic exasperation. Their back-and-forth sparring in the classroom elicited well-earned laughs from the audience.
Even without the film’s iconic ’80s soundtrack and Heckerling’s sharp eye behind the camera, Roth and his Live Read cast helped to highlight Crowe’s beautifully observant script in unexpected ways.