Amy Heckerling

Active - 1982 - 2012  |   Born - May 7, 1954 in New York, New York, United States  |   Genres - Comedy, Comedy Drama

Share on

In the '80s, filmmaker Amy Heckerling was one of only a handful of American female directors (alongside Penny Marshall, Martha Coolidge, and Penelope Spheeris) known for consistently producing A-budget box office draws. Born in the Bronx, NYC, on May 7, 1954, Heckerling graduated, sequentially, from Manhattan's High School of Art and Design, NYU's prestigious Tisch School of Film, and the AFI - where she received her Master's in filmmaking.

Heckerling served her apprenticeship with five years' worth of short subjects, and graduated to a feature-length effort with the sleeper hit Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Adapted from the book of the same title by Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe, the picture recounts Crowe's experiences impersonating a student at a southern California high school. The innuendo-laden film divided critics, but permanently carved a niche for "teen" films in American cinema (and probably paved the way for John Hughes); it also became a box-office smash and established several young stars, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Nicolas Cage and Eric Stolz, and most of all Sean Penn, who dazzled everyone with his evocation of stoner surfer Jeff Spicoli. The picture briefly typed Heckerling as a "youth market" director.

Heckerling subsequently directed Johnny Dangerously (1984), an uneven gangster spoof starring Michael Keaton, Joe Piscopo and Marilu Henner, and helmed the vulgar and ugly National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985), from a script by John Hughes and Robert Klane. Critics quite rightly lambasted both. Perhaps as a result, it would be four years before Heckerling's fourth feature outing, and she spent that time going back to the roots of her first big success, with an attempt to adopt Fast Times at Ridgemont High for the small screen. The effort failed; CBS's 1986 series Fast Times lasted approximately one month, debuting to dismal ratings.

Heckerling's fourth big-screen venture, Look Who's Talking, starred John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and Bruce Willis (voicing a cute baby) as the three leads; it shot up to become one of the most towering box-office draws of 1989 when it hit theaters late that year, surpassing even Back to the Future, Part II. Heckerling's decision to stick with the franchise for a follow-up proved less intuitive; 1990's Look Who's Talking Now featured Roseanne Barr voicing a second Alley/Travolta childThe director returned to form with her 1995 feature Clueless, a modernization of Jane Austen's novel Emma, about a spoiled and airheaded Beverly Hills teen. The picture made a star of Alicia Silverstone and charmed just about everyone; it also became a box office blockbuster.

Heckerling continued to work as a producer throughout the late nineties, and returned as a director with less success for 2000's Loser, an oddball romance starring Mena Suvari and Jason Biggs. The romantic comedy I Could Never Be Your Woman followed, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd as lovers with an eleven-year age difference. In 2012 she reteamed with Clueless star Alicia Silverstone for Vamps, a horror comedy about female vampires who love the night life.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography

Factsheet

  • Three then-unknown "alumni" from her feature directorial debut, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), went on to win Best Actor Oscars: Nicolas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland (2006) and Sean Penn for Mystic River (2003) and Milk (2008).
  • Conceived of the idea for her box-office hit Look Who's Talking (1989) after the birth of daughter Mollie; Heckerling and her then-husband, Neal Israel, would stare at their baby and wonder what she was thinking.
  • Coauthored with Pamela Pettler The No-Sex Handbook (1990), a tongue-in-cheek antidating manual.
  • Won Best Screenplay honors from the National Society of Film Critics for the 1995 hit Clueless, a comedic update of Jane Austen's Emma.
  • Three of her films have been made into TV sitcoms: Fast Times ran for a few weeks in 1986 on CBS; Look Who's Talking became ABC's Baby Talk in 1991; and Clueless aired on ABC from 1996 to '97 and UPN from '97 to '99.