Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1982. Universal Pictures, Refugee Films. Screenplay by Cameron Crowe, based on his book. Cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti. Produced by Irving Azoff, Art Linson. Music by Bob Destocki. Production Design by Daniel A. Lomino. Costume Design by Marilyn Vance. Film Editing by Eric Jenkins.
Cameron Crowe went back to high school incognito and wrote a book based on his observations, eventually adapting it to the big screen for this film that also provided the directorial breakthrough for Amy Heckerling. It’s a formless journey through the lives of a number of students who are all dealing with drama (sex, relationships, college) while doing their best not to let anyone around them see their ache. Jennifer Jason Leigh is a standout as a young woman for whom learning the difference between what she thinks she should want versus what she actually desires is a hard lesson, while Sean Penn is unforgettably hilarious as the now iconic Jeff Spicoli, a surfer dude whose devotion to not achieving much in school makes him a legend (it’s also the last time Penn was the least bit lighthearted until Milk more than two decades later). The lack of a strong throughline is not a problem as Heckerling keeps it moving quickly enough, and all the actors (many of whom had much bigger careers after this movie’s release) are appealing, but in trying to blend harsh realism (like an abortion subplot) with exploitative escapism (like the many shots of breasts) it ends up feeling like an uncomfortable blend of the two, providing more intelligent elements of the former than memorable examples of the latter.
The Criterion Collection: #1075