Cameron Crowe says 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' abortion storyline would be 'outrageously controversial' today

Lyndsey Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Music

In an age when Roe v. Wade is under attack and sweeping, severe anti-abortion laws and bills are being passed in Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri, it’s interesting to look back on the pro-choice subplot of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which caused little stir in 1982. Sitting at Yahoo Entertainment with David Crosby to promote his latest film project, the documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name, Cameron Crowe — whose book about his experience as an undercover reporter at a Southern California high school inspired the classic teen comedy — acknowledges that those scenes would be received very differently today.

“It would be outrageously controversial, and it would be protested, and there would be a mess over it,” Crowe assets.

In the movie, which was directed by Amy Heckerling, 15-year-old sophomore Stacy, a virgin at the start of the school year, has sex with creepy Damone, who cruelly ghosts her afterwards. Stacy later finds out she’s pregnant and gets an abortion, but her decision and its aftermath are treated very plainly, with absolutely zero moral judgment. Fast Times was Heckerling’s first feature film, at a time when few female directors were helming major projects, and Crowe remains appreciative of the bravery and unflinching attitude with which she tackled the realistic storyline.

“She read my book, she read the script, and we asked her about the abortion scene, and she said, ‘You know what? This is life. I want to shoot this like life, just like life.’ Which is everything you'd want in a director – and a woman director, at a time when no women directors were getting jobs in Hollywood,” says Crowe. “She just quietly did it, and in an almost European way, she put this young girl's life onscreen in a way for you to judge: This is just how life is. It meant a lot when she did it at the time, and it still means a lot. It was a very courageous thing to do, and it actually is the one thing about the movie that I'm probably happiest about at this point.”

Jennifer Jason Leigh at Stacy and Judge Reinhold as her sympathetic older brother Brad in 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High.' (Photo: Universal Pictures)

Crowe stresses that there was little outrage over Stacy’s Fast Times abortion nearly four decades ago. “This is an interesting thing: The one critic who had something to say about it and felt that it was tough for a young girl, that we had perhaps been tough on a young actress [Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was actually 20 years old at the time] in portraying. It was an interesting reaction. It was from Roger Ebert.”

However, despite Ebert’s initial displeasure with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Crowe says the legendary film critic eventually “reevaluated that point of view over time and became a big supporter of mine.” Ebert even paved the way for Crowe’s directorial debut, another true-to-life (if less R-rated) look at high school dating, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

“[Ebert] actually helped get the movie Say Anything released, along with his partner in the early show, Gene Siskel. So that [Fast Times abortion] scene, there's a current running through my stuff as a result of that scene, because Ebert really is one of the other reasons that I'm here right now, still doing this job,” Crowe reveals. “So yeah, interesting history on that.”

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