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Amy Heckerling

Best known for making Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Look Who's Talking (1989), and Clueless (1995). Perhaps more to the point, she is one of the few successful female directors in Hollywood.

One of the myths of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which a pause button quickly dispels, is that all of the clocks in the movie are set for 4:20, the marijuana witching hour. Sure, courtesy of Sean Penn's outrageously right-on dopehead surfer dude Jeff Spicoli, the movie has its share of doobies. But, for a teen movie, it has more than its share of don't-bes as well.

As with American Graffiti, Amy Heckerling's 1982 first feature is more verité than high-school romp. Its funny and its characters cover all of the requisite cliques, but it's also quite serious about the various meanings and pressures of "coming of age". Also, like American Graffiti, it offers a first (or very early) look at an uncanny array of stars: Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold and Forest Whitaker are featured; Anthony Edwards and Eric Stoltz flank Penn on the ganja front; and Nicolas (Coppola) Cage plays Reinhold's pal. Even more significantly, perhaps, it was director Cameron Crowe's debut as a screenwriter, and the first time uber-composer and former Oingo Boingo member Danny Elfman did an original song for a movie.

Amy Heckerling has a knack for cool comedy. She expertly mixes in just the right amounts of attitude, sex, drugs, rock n roll, fashion and slang with her characters and situations to make films that are still surprisingly fresh.

Even when Heckerling had a baby, and turned the experience into the engaging "Look Who's Talking", she turns the experience into a cool comedy. With the help of the attitude in Bruce Willis's voice, the baby is even cooler than John Travolta, as Kirstie Alley's taxi-driving romantic opposite. The cool drives Look Who's Talking Too", with the added attitude of Roseanne Barr as Bruce's "baby sisters voice". Heckerling wisely moved to the back seat for part three, Look Who's Talking Now.

Literally and figuratively going back to high school to write and direct the brilliant Clueless, Jane Austen's Emma moved to Beverly Hills High School, Heckerling scored another huge critical and popular hit with teens. (It was also her third film to be made into a (brief) TV series.) A long way from Ridgemont, BHHS teens are the fashion-sensitive version of teen angst. Clueless" is actually a lot more fun and, just because Alicia Silverstone's Cher is saving "herself" from enduring the memory of a bench-warming tryst, its no less emotionally real - and still way cool.

An uncredited director of Will Ferrell's 1998 launch pad, A Night at the Roxbury, Heckerling graduated to a film about college life with "Loser", which audiences felt was just that. She remains, however, one of the few successful women directors in Hollywood, and her films enjoy the cache of being honest documents of the age they reflect, yet still remaining fresh.

— Nate Lee

Great Scenes:

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH

The series of scenes of Ray Walston as the history teacher, Mr. Hand, struggling with Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli for his heart and mind are the comedic heart of the film. One forgets that in the most famous scene, when Spicoli has a pizza delivered to the classroom, it is Mr. Hand who wins by turning Spicoli's theory against him and sharing the pizza with the rest of the class.

Jennifer Jason Leigh loses her virginity in a baseball dugout, staring up at graffiti of "Disco sucks" and "Surf Nazis." Its pathetically poetic and darkly humorous, and surprising in how early in the movie it happens - the first step in Leigh's adolescent odyssey through sex, love and romance.

Sure, the scene of Phoebe Cates busting in on Judge Reinhold as he's masturbating while fantasizing about her is very funny. It's played for real, though, not for laughs. Admirably, Heckerling shows more concern for being true to her characters than for "pumping" an audience.

CLUELESS

All of the scenes with Dan Hedaya, as Alicia Silverstone's litigator" father, are priceless. The best one, though, is when he is more proud of her for "negotiating" her grades up from a C+ to an A- than if she had actually deserved an A in the first place.

If you have a good vocabulary yourself, you may not notice that Alicia's Cher belts out polysyllabic words (and, for then, cutting-edge slang) like she's Nabokov's granddaughter. The movie reveals a series of layers to Cher's character that run deep: at one point, she corrects a haughty college girl who misquotes Hamlet. I think I know "Shakespeare," the girl retorts. Well, I know "Mel Gibson," Cher replies, "and he didn't say it. It was that Polonius guy…"

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