A Virtual Table Read of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Featuring Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman, Shia LaBeouf, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, John Legend & More

If you will for­give a gross over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, there are two kinds of peo­ple in this world:

Those (like me) who, hav­ing seen Fast Times at Ridge­mont High the night before the first day of their senior year of high school, made sure to pack car­rots in their lunch­box­es, and those who were too young to see it in its orig­i­nal release, pos­si­bly because they hadn’t been born yet.

For those of us in the first group, Feel­in’ A‑Live’s #Fast­Times­Live, a vir­tu­al table read of the script for Cameron Crowe’s 1982 semi-auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal teen sex romp, is a bit of a tough sell, even as a fundrais­er for two good caus­es: the COVID-19 relief orga­ni­za­tion CORE and REFORM Alliance, which is ded­i­cat­ed to crim­i­nal jus­tice reform and staunch­ing COVID-19’s spread with­in the incar­cer­at­ed pop­u­la­tion.

It’s kind of a mess.

Pos­si­bly we’re just crab­by from all the Zoom per­for­mances we’ve watched and tak­en part in over the last 6+ months.

Were we sup­posed to be charmed that this live, unre­hearsed per­for­mance fea­tured A‑list movie stars, bum­bling through like reg­u­lar Joes cir­ca April 2020?

Ray Liot­ta, repris­ing the late Ray Wal­ston’s author­i­ty fig­ure, Mr. Hand, is ham­strung by his old school paper script, ensur­ing that most of his lines will be deliv­ered with down­cast eyes.

Julia Roberts, as 15-year-old hero­ine, Sta­cy, is win­some­ly fresh, but out of focus.

Is it this blur­ri­ness of the tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties that caused the pro­duc­tion, orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived of as a fea­ture-length table read, to be re-pack­aged as a sort of high­lights trib­ute?

(Roberts’ com­put­er glitch appears to have been cleared up after orga­niz­er Dane Cook’s first inter­rup­tion to encour­age dona­tions (cur­rent­ly stand­ing at a $2,132, which is par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­ap­point­ing giv­en that the film took in $2,545,674 its open­ing week­end, in 1992.))

Jen­nifer Anis­ton, in the role orig­i­nat­ed by Sev­en­teen mod­el, Phoebe Cates, is pre­dictably fun­ny, and also brings pro­fes­sion­al qual­i­ty make up and light­ing to the pro­ceed­ings, but it’s some­how unjust that her celebri­ty sta­tus excus­es her face-obscur­ing hair­do. Actress­es of her gen­er­a­tion, lack­ing her star pow­er, ply­ing their trade on Zoom are invari­ably ordered to bar­rette up.

The tech­ni­cal prob­lems were not enough to spare us from a reen­act­ment of the film’s most noto­ri­ous scene, in which Stacy’s old­er broth­er, orig­i­nal­ly played by Judge Rein­hold, now brought to life by Anniston’s ex, Brad Pitt, fan­ta­sizes about Cates unclasp­ing her biki­ni top, only to be barged in on enjoy­ing an extreme­ly pri­vate moment by the very object of those fan­tasies.

It’s at the 37 minute mark, FYI.

A fit­ting pun­ish­ment for those of us who, remem­ber­ing the tabloid head­lines, eager­ly focused on Aniston’s face as Pitt was being intro­duced.

It wouldn’t hold a can­dle to the now-prob­lem­at­ic orig­i­nal, if Pitt weren’t blush­ing and Mor­gan Free­man weren’t read­ing the stage direc­tions.

(“Do you want me to use my Lorne Greene sonorous voice or just read like I’m not here?”)

Many view­ers picked up on the play­ers’ seem­ing­ly cool recep­tion of their cast­mate, Method actor, Shia LaBeouf, born four years after the orig­i­nal film’s release. In the role of surfin’ ston­er, Jeff Spi­coli, he was tasked with some very big shoes to fill.

It’s a trib­ute to orig­i­nal Spi­coli, activist Sean Penn’s ver­sa­til­i­ty that he wasn’t for­ev­er type­cast as vari­ants on his star mak­ing role. As the only mem­ber of the orig­i­nal cast in atten­dance (as well as the founder of one of the des­ig­nat­ed char­i­ties), he alone seems to be enjoy­ing the hell out of LaBeouf’s scene steal­ing antics.

Writer Crowe and direc­tor Amy Heck­er­ling dish on his audi­tion at the end of the pro­ceed­ings, and in so doing shed some light on LaBeouf’s eccen­tric­i­ties, and the oth­ers’ wari­ness.

Even though the sto­ry con­flicts, some­what, with the cast­ing director’s rec­ol­lec­tion below, we’re will­ing to take it on faith that LaBeouf’s fel­lows’ fail­ure to clap for him is as much a part of the joke as Pitt’s game use of icon­ic head­gear.

Dane Cook hedged his bets in def­er­ence to those who may not have lived through the peri­od par­o­died by the film:

One more thing, before we start, the big dis­claimer with a cap­i­tal D, a whole lot of beliefs and lan­guage have changed since this came out, so don’t @ us, unless it’s to donate. Remem­ber, it was a cer­tain time and place, and the sen­ti­ments in the script do not reflect the peo­ple read­ing it today. They do reflect the fic­tion­al char­ac­ters from an imag­i­nary school in a total­ly make believe sto­ry, got it?

We get it!

The recast­ing with actors the same age as Jen­nifer Jason Leigh (Sta­cy) and Phoebe Cates remains a bit­ter pill, but per­haps it spares us all com­ments fix­at­ing on the rav­ages of time. Instead, we get to hear about the “time­less” beau­ty of Annis­ton and Roberts.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Delet­ed Scene from Almost Famous: Mom, “Stair­way to Heav­en” is Based on the Lit­er­a­ture of Tolkien

1980s Met­al­head Kids Are Alright: Sci­en­tif­ic Study Shows That They Became Well-Adjust­ed Adults

10 Tips From Bil­ly Wilder on How to Write a Good Screen­play

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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