Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Weekend Roundtable: Favorite High School Comedies

High school is a (nearly) universal experience we all have to suffer through, and it’s such a defining time in most of our lives that of course filmmakers would want to mine that ground for screenplay material. Our Roundtable this week looks at some of our favorite comedies set in high school.

Jason Gorber

While most of Ferris Bueler’s Day Off takes place in almost every place that’s not a high school, it stands as a definitive exemplar of what we wished every time we called in sick when really we didn’t want to deal with the daily grind…. the dream of being able to hack in and change one’s grades from a bedroom-situated IBM XT, to grab a friend’s Ferrari and take your partner and best friend for a ride. If you led a parade mid-way through singing some Beatles, that wouldn’t suck either.

Deirdre Crimmins

I have to go with Better Off Dead. It’s far sillier than you might remember, and has food that scuttles across the table and an extended fast food dream sequence. The romance is disposable and the drama predictable, but its surrealism and quoteability make it an easy, breezy watch.

M. Enois Duarte

John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club remains the best comedy set in a high school. Few movies have ever perfectly captured the anxieties, challenges and stress of being a teenager in the modern world as Hughes did with this beloved classic. Part of what makes this film a standout is its focus on five students stuck in Saturday detention, taking them out of their comfort zone, their usual environment surrounded by other friends. Through the course of the movie, we learn not only more about each kid, but come to appreciate that being a teen is often more strenuous than fun, more taxing than effortless for each individual. Their struggles can’t be generalized, easily summarized or categorized.

Brian Hoss

Not only is 21 Jump Street a hilarious movie that really shouldn’t work due to the origin of the property (see ‘Baywatch’ for example), but the set-up for the stellar cast is especially wry. Two not high school age doofuses infiltrating a 2010-ish high school is kind of a perfect analogy for the entire genre.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I’m champing at the bit to write about 10 Things I Hate About You, which is far and away the best movie to emerge from the Great (?) Teen Movie Renaissance at the tail end of the ’90s. Because I’m kind of a masochist, though, I’ll talk about Drive Me Crazy instead.

If you’re on the Centennial Committee and meticulously planning every last facet of your high school’s big dance, you’re pretty much obligated to show up. But wait! Nicole (Melissa Joan Hart) just looked on in horror as her hunky, double-digit-IQ crush passed her over in favor of a cheerleader. In a fit of dateless desperation, Nicole reconnects with her next door neighbor and BFF-no-more, Chase (Adrian Grenier).

Chase is the bad boy of your firmly-PG-rated dreams: all leather jackets and pop-punk and the-whole-school-is-gonna-lose-their-minds-over-this-prank shenanigans. Plus, he’s just been dumped by his clove cigarette-puffing, social activist girlfriend (Ali Larter), so he’s on the market. The rare opportunity for an anti-conformist to infiltrate the In Crowd: it’ll be the scam of the century!

So, sure, Nicole gives Chase a preppy makeover, and they pretend to be a couple. Along the way, they each learn a little something about how the other half lives. But in trying to make the objects of their affections jealous, will Nicole and Chase’s fake relationship blossom into the real thing?! Spoiler: Yes. Yes, it does.

The core of Drive Me Crazy is paint-by-numbers formula, but it’s the infectiously fun stuff in the margins that won my heart. That’s the benefit of having Rob Thomas aboard as screenwriter, before he’d create the likes of Veronica Mars, Party Down, and iZombie. Thrill to Designated Dave’s online romance with DaughterJudy and the amazing payoff. Ray makes unbelievable, homebrew music videos for The Electrocutes (a.k.a. The Donnas), who chime in with a couple performances. You’ll love to hate Machiavellian schemer Susan May Pratt and love to love too-cute sweetie pie Keri Lynn Pratt (no relation). I can’t really think of any better use for a turtleneck than to protect my post-breakup self from the world at large. And there’s something that warms my heart about high school social stratas not being as walled off from one another as you’d think.

The more I write, the more I’m starting to think that I genuinely, sincerely love Drive Me Crazy, so maybe I should stop while I’m ahead.

Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)

Although the book was vastly superior to the movie, I did enjoy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, probably because I was in high school when both the book and the film were released. Written by Cameron Crowe and based on his actual experiences re-enrolling for a year in a California High School when he was in his early 20s, the film touches upon the usual high school hijinks and teen angst in an insightful yet entertaining way. A young Sean Penn channeled the stoner Jeff Spicoli to a T, ordering pizza in class, calling one of the teachers a dick (whoa!), and stumbling out of vans in a cloud of smoke. Penn was so committed to the role that he remained in character during the filming and only let people call him by his real name after the shooting was complete. Also, apparently director David Lynch was considered early on in the project. Imagine what a different film it would have been then?

Josh Zyber

Alexander Payne’s Election manages to cram a razor-sharp and amazingly astute political satire into a high school comedy without losing the laughs. In her breakout role, Reese Witherspoon created a truly iconic character with the go-getting overachiever Tracy Flick.

Also, Adam already mentioned it briefly, but I need to toss an Honorable Mention to 10 Things I Hate About You for the sake of Mrs. Z, who will stop to watch it whenever she runs across it on television (which is not infrequently). I like it too.

Your Turn

Tell us your favorite high school comedies in the Comments.

19 comments

  1. I love every single movie mentioned in this week’s roundtable.

    Personally, I’ve always had soft spots for Can’t Hardly Wait and She’s All That. Both were released theatrically just as I was graduating high school, so they seemed especially fitting. Mike Dexter. A-Man-Duh. PubePeronni Pizza. For me, there’s a whole lot of nostalgia in those two.

      • EM

        They’re also strongly verb-centric, some of them even being whole clauses. I’ve often been fascinated by the high incidence of complete sentences as titles in Frank Capra’s filmography: It’s a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Meet John Doe, You Can’t Take It With You, etc.

  2. Timcharger

    I recently watched this high school movie, maybe somebody can help me remember it’s name. It stars this prep football guy in an all boys Catholic school in DC. It’s all about partying, boozing, ralphing, boofing. I think there was horror theme to this comedy, something in the plot about a devil’s triangle. This comedy made me laugh so hard, I may have blacked out watching it. I heard they might make a sequel, this time a police procedural involving the FBI.

  3. Chris B

    There’s a ton of classic picks I love but a more recent one I really enjoyed was The ‘Duff with Mae Whitman. It’s far better than most throwaway teen comedies with some genuine laughs. Check it out if u guys have’’t seen it.

  4. photogdave

    Of relatively recent releases I think Superbad is one of the best. It really captures the teenage need to get wasted and score…something that is probably a thing of the past now.
    Jonah Hill’s character’s overwhelming belief that he needs to get a girl drunk to be with him and the priority he places on getting alcohol really ring true from what I remember of those days and luckily the ending of the movie does a good job of busting that myth without losing the laughs.
    My nostalgia pick is Sixteen Candles. It’s more of a traditional high school comedy than The Breakfast Club and while maybe not as good a film, has more belly laughs and blatant T&A, which is what teenage boys wanna see!

  5. Charles Contreras

    Grease, American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, in that order, I play those every summer and never get tired of them. Times were so much simpler back then.

  6. John M Burton Jr.

    I’ve always enjoyed “Three O’Clock High “. A nerd must face a bully at the end of the school day. Goofy and fun.

  7. Patsch

    For me it‘s gotta be „Ghost World“ – although technically it starts right after their high school graduation. I love that movie so much, and right after watching it for the first time my obsession with Scarlett Johansson must have begun. Great characters, funny as well and sad at the same time, so pessimistic yet optimistic at the same time… I‘ll probably have to watch it again sometime this werk

    Anf of course the first two American Pie movies and Superbad are always a save choice if you want to travel back in time and reminisce

  8. I’m amazed that Dazed and Confused hasn’t been mentioned. Not only my favorite high school comedy, one of my favorite movies of all times. I could watch it weekly if I had time.

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