The wife was aghast that I'm a fan of 1980s culture, but had not yet seen this seminal movie - one which had launched the careers of Sean Penn, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh and more. So the DVD was obtained second hand from the internet, and I made some Turkish coffee with which to enjoy the film.
Like many movie commentaries, this one will be full of spoilers.
There are several things jarring about this. First is the sheer amount of purchasing power available to teenagers: they're seen at the holy temple of capitalism, the suburban mall - both earning and spending. Brad, the tall manager type played by Judge Reinhold is six payments shy of owning a really nice vintage car. Jobs are so plentiful that Brad can be fired from one and be working another within a week.
The second, of course, is the quaintness of certain technology - seeing analog cash registers and LED displays rather than at least LCD displays. Much of the cash register technology displayed is only just barely out of the "abacus and nixie" stage.
But what's the most jarring - and what I'm increasingly finding difficult about enjoying 80s movies so much - is some of the problematic elements in these movies. Long Duk Dong might have been funny in the 1980s and you can see the comedy in it today, but it's not as funny to make fun of a Jerry Lewis level impersonation of "a Chinaman" even though Gedde Watanabe has said more than once it was a paying gig, get over it.
There are really three main story arcs in this film. The first is surfer-wastoid "Jeff Spicoli", played by Sean Penn, living for nothing more than bubbling bongs, catching "tasty waves" and being the generally Ur-example of the stereotypical California surfer/stoner. His comrades in arms are a pre-Mask Eric Stoltz and pre-ER Anthony Edwards, with a ragingly awesome full head of hair. At first he sees nothing wrong with coming to class late (and is lured into a later one with the promise of a birthday party) but for all of his "gnarly, dude!"s and so forth at the end of the film we get some character evolution when a teacher comes into his home (post epic bong hit) and decides to square the accounts of "wasted time" over the course of the year. In a discussion of American History, it turns out that Spicoli was actually to some degree paying attention because he's able to express the core idea behind a concept his teacher despaired the students weren't getting - albeit in stoner slang - and proves that the teacher's efforts were not really in vain.
The second major story arc is successful senior Brad's starting the school year on a high note. Car almost paid off, great girlfriend, good job, influence with his peers. Over the course of the year his decision to help a friend get a job results in him being fired, obliquely. His girlfriend turns out to also think them breaking up to explore their options is a good idea - and just when you think he can't feel any worse (having gone from a good looking uniformed job to wearing a Spongebob Squarepants style pirate costume) he's caught masturbating to his little sister's best friend. By her.
But by far the worst arc is Brad's little sister, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. She sets out to lose her virginity by 15, and allows herself to be seduced by a car audio salesman who takes her virginity in some suburban bleachers while she stares at graffiti above his head. He asks her if she's really 19 even though she clearly isn't and he's just asking for plausible deniability. She confides to her best friend that it really hurt, and the friend answers back to keep trying, it gets better eventually. At first accepting the offer of nice-guy "Rat" to be taken out to dinner, her attempts at seducing him spook him as he really likes her - so she decides to make a play for his alpha-Soprano "badda boom, badda bing" type ticket scalper best friend. She seduces him in their family pool changing house, and he comes quickly and inside her, resulting in her pregnancy. She manages to secure an abortion at the free clinic and when he backs out both for paying half of it and driving her to the operation (though, in fairness, he's seen calling in debts to try and make up the $75) she decides she's done with sex and wants a relationship. That's when she decides to give "nice guy" "Rat" a second chance, but decides that the way to keep a man around is not to sleep with him which is why they're still "madly in love". Cue all the neckbeards from Reddit throwing "red pills" around the room. The blatant misogyny of this arc made me triple check that yes, this whole thing was written by a man.
It's competently shot, competently acted and catches some rising new stars in performances that remind us they've changed as people, too. We're reminded that strongly left liberal Sean Penn once dated Madonna and punched out photographers. Anthony Edwards had hair.
And hey, it even features Vincent Schiavelli.