Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Another Jennifer Jason Leigh Post

In my continuing quest to say new things about movies that are so old no one cares about them anymore (see the Last Days of Pompeii post below), I want to take on Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which I saw this weekend.

This is an entirely different experience from seeing it on TV, and not in the way you think.

Sure, you get to see Phoebe Cates topless, which is nice if you're into that kind of thing. But the other scenes that get cut, the ones where Jennifer Jason Leigh gets naked (yes, there are two of them), are so crucial to the plot that leaving them out changes the movie entirely. When I Love the 80's talking heads go on about how cool Spicoli was or admit how many times they jerked off to the bathing suit scene, they give the impression that this was some kind of raunchy proto-American Pie. Roger Ebert basically says the same thing with less approval, calling the movie sexist. (Is that an apology for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls? None needed, actually.) Here's his argument:
[Leigh's] sexual experiences all turn out to have an unnecessary element of realism, so that we have to see her humiliated, disappointed, and embarrassed. Whatever happened to upbeat sex? Whatever happened to love and lust and romance, and scenes where good-looking kids had a little joy and excitement in life, instead of all this grungy downbeat humiliation? Why does someone as pretty as Leigh have to have her nudity exploited in shots where the only point is to show her ill-at-ease?
Basically, Ebert has no problem with sex in movies as long as it's unrealistic. He seems in denial about the fact that the movie is almost feminist. The main point is that all of the boys are losers who are so lost in their male fantasies that they can't satisfy Leigh. She's not humiliated or embarrassed, she's actually pretty much in control of the situation. Yes, she's disappointed, but not as much as Ebert is at not getting to see more beautiful people fucking. At least Leigh's character is honest about her situation, whereas Ebert has to hide his disappointment behind false concern about Leigh being exploited. (Shorter Ebert: "Only ugly people should be exploited to show sexual embarrassment; beautiful people should be exploited to make me hard.") And by the way, he's wrong when he calls her a slut "promiscuous sex machine": she has sex twice in the period of a year.

(Spoilers here.) The disastrous second sex scene, in the poolhouse, actually entirely changes our interpretation of two different characters. The next scene has Leigh and Cates talking about how long their respective lovers take. Having seen Mike's little incident, we know that Leigh is lying when she says he took 15 minutes. So we interpret Cates's answer (30-40 minutes) as a lie too. In fact, I think we're supposed to assume that Cates's long-distance boyfriend is entirely imaginary, an excuse she uses to make herself seem sophisticated even though she's scared to death of sex. Mike also comes across as both less promiscuous and less honest. He flakes out on the abortion not because he's an insensitive jerk, but because he's embarrassed. All his talk about how great he is with women is just a bluff to hide his inadequacies. Okay, so he's still a jerk, but he and Cates's character are also more human than they appear on TV. And way more human than any character in American Pie.


Anonymous said...

good post!!thanks

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