Family & Companions
One of only a handful of women who not only worked as directors during the 1980s but also enjoyed great success doing so, Amy Heckerling proved to be one of the smartest and most observant chroniclers of teenage life with the acclaimed comedies "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982) and "Clueless" (1995). Keenly aware of the complex levels of social intercourse and class structure within the American high school, Heckerling's best films found the honest emotions at the center of teenagers' highly overcharged lives: the need to be liked, to fit in, and ultimately, to find one's own way. Despite the returns on "Fast Times," Heckerling struggled to find quality projects in the 1980s until scoring a huge hit with the broad comedy "Look Who's Talking" (1989). "Clueless" would mark her return to the teenaged film, but would also serve as her last successful project for nearly two decades. Despite her constant uphill battle to portray young people - in particular, young women - in a positive light, Heckerling's best work enshrined her as a patron saint of the teenage comedy.
Born May 7, 1954 in The Bronx, NY, Amy Heckerling's father was a certified public accountant, while her mother worked in bookkeeping. They moved to Queens, where she gave herself an informal education in classic Hollywood comedies on television. After graduating from the High School of Art and Design in 1970, she studied under controversial author and screenwriter Terry Southern at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts before earning her master's degree in film from the American Film Institute's AFI Conservatory. Despite her impressive pedigree, Heckerling found it difficult to land a directing job in Hollywood. She bided her time with short films - most notably "Getting it Over With" (1978), a comedy about an 18-year-old girl (Glynnis O'Connor) who decides to lose her virginity before the end of her teen years. The short demonstrated her understanding of the complexities of teenage life, and made her an ideal candidate for her first feature.
Based on screenwriter Cameron Crowe's book about high school social rituals, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" was a substantial hit both with audiences and critics, who found its hilarious and honest look at teenagers a refreshing alternative to stale Hollywood fare. The film was also notable for introducing an extraordinary cast of up-and-coming talent, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Nicolas Cage, Anthony Edwards, Judge Reinhold, and Sean Penn as the film's breakout character, the hazy-minded, surf-loving stoner, Jeff Spicoli. The success of "Fast Times" generated immediate attention for Heckerling, who soon found herself at the helm of two high-profile studio comedies. However, the gangster spoof "Johnny Dangerously" (1984) was a dismal flop, while "European Vacation" scored only at the box office. In 1986, she served as producer, writer and occasional director on "Fast Times" (CBS, 1986), a watered-down TV take on her feature debut. Savaged by critics and ignored by viewers for sanitizing the characters, it lasted for only seven episodes.
Heckerling stepped away from filmmaking to have a daughter, future actress and singer Mollie Israel, with her husband, writer Neal Israel ("Bachelor Party," 1984), whom she divorced in 1984. The experience provided her with the inspiration for her next feature, "Look Who's Talking" (1989), a romantic comedy with John Travolta as a cab driver who falls for a single mother (Kirstie Alley) and her son, whose sardonic observations were voiced by Bruce Willis. A colossal hit, surpassing even the highly anticipated "Back to the Future II" (1989) at the box office, it naturally led to a sequel, "Look Who's Talking Too" (1990), which Heckerling also directed and co-wrote with Israel. However, she was shrewd enough to serve only as executive producer for "Look Who's Talking Now" (1993), which replaced Willis with Danny DeVito and Diane Keaton as the family's talking dog, and "Baby Talk" (ABC, 1991-92), a sitcom starring George Clooney in the Travolta role and Tony Danza as the talking baby.
In 1995, Heckerling came back in major way by writing and directing "Clueless," a wry take on Jane Austen's Emma, as viewed through the filter of the young and wealthy in Beverly Hills. The film, which featured a star-making turn by Alicia Silverstone as a seemingly superficial high schooler who attempts to "make over" a less socially adept classmate (Brittany Murphy), received glowing reviews from critics and, more importantly, teenage girls, who felt that Heckerling's script accurately reflected their feeling. She earned Best Screenplay Award from the National Association of Film Critics and Women in Film, as well as a Writers Guild of America nomination, and set to work on the pilot for a "Clueless" series (ABC/UPN, 1996-99), to which she later contributed as occasional director.
Sadly, "Clueless" would serve as Heckerling's last substantive hit to date. She served as producer and uncredited director of the reviled "Night at the Roxbury" (1998), a feature-length version of a "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) sketch with Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan as hapless clubgoers, and "Molly" (1990), a treacle-heavy romance about an autistic woman (Elisabeth Shue) who became a genius after experimental surgery. Her 2000 return to direction, "Loser" (2000), was a wan college-age comedy about two misfits (Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari) who found each other, and by 2005, she was largely absent behind the camera save for an episode of "The Office" (NBC, 2005-13).
In 2007, she returned to directing for "I Could Never Be Your Woman" (2007), a smart comedy-drama about a single mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) struggling to raise her daughter (Saoirse Ronan) in a culture with distorted views of women while juggling her job and a romance with a much younger man (Paul Rudd). Shot in England for tax purposes, the film was produced by Phillipe Martinez of the indie production house Bauer Martinez. Despite rave advance reviews, Martinez failed to secure a deal for theatrical distribution through MGM after the studio learned that Pfeiffer had deferred part of her salary in exchange for a percentage of the gross. "Woman" was eventually released on DVD, to the chagrin of Hecklering and everyone else involved. In 2011, she was announced as writer-director of "Vamps" (2012), a romantic comedy about a pair of socialite vampires (Silverstone and Krysten Ritter) who fall in love with human men while avoiding overly ambitious vampire hunters.
By Paul Gaita
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Directed the award-winning short "High Finance", starring Joel Silver
Moved to L.A.
Feature directorial debut, the teen classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"
Directed the Michael Keaton gangster comedy "Johnny Dangerously"
Had a cameo acting role in John Landis's "Into the Night"
Helmed the troubled but commercially successful "National Lampoon's European Vacation"
Debuted as a television writer with "Death Benefits", an episode of the CBS comedy anthology series "George Burns Comedy Week"
Served as supervising producer of "Fast Times", the CBS version of the feature; also directed the pilot
Served as supervising producer of "Tough Cookies" (also wrote an episode), a short-lived CBS cop sitcom
Produced "Life on the Flipside", an unsold sitcom pilot
Feature writing debut, "Look Who's Talking", a sleeper hit comedy; also directed
Helmed the successful follow-up "Look Who's Talking Too"
Received a creator's credit on "Baby Talk", a short-lived ABC sitcom loosely derived from "Look Who's Talking"
Feature producing debut as co-producer of "Look Who's Talking Now", the second sequel to the original; also scripted and directed
Was screenwriter and director of "Clueless", the popular and critically acclaimed Beverly Hills-set modern reworking of Jane Austen's "Emma"
Was creator and executive producer of the TV series adaptation "Clueless" (ABC 1996-1997; UPN 1997-1999), also directed and scripted some episodes
Produced "A Night at the Roxbury", a comedy feature based on the club-hopping Bubati brothers from "Saturday Night Live"
Was executive producer of the sentimental and unsuccessful Elisabeth Shue vehicle "Molly"
Helmed the New York City college-set comedy "Loser"
Directed an episode for the American version of the workplace comedy "The Office" (NBC)
Directed Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd in the romantic comedy "I Could Never Be Your Woman," also wrote screenplay