Back to School Part II #15: Joy of Sex (dir by Martha Coolidge)


Let’s say one positive thing about the 1984 “comedy” Joy of Sex.

The tag line on the poster: “Somewhere between virginity and senility, lies paradise,” is brilliant.  Whoever came up with it deserves a lot of credit because it sounds a lot better than anything that’s actually heard in the movie.

Let’s say something else good at Joy of Sex.  The two stars of the movie — Cameron Dye and Michelle Meyrink — both gave good and likable performances, even if their characters got a little bit annoying at times.  (Then again, just about everyone in Joy of Sex gets annoying.)  Also, there’s a subplot about an undercover cop (played by Colleen Camp) that predates 21 Jump Street and which occasionally shows off a few hints of genuine wit.

Otherwise, this is probably one of the worst of the 80s teen comedies that I’ll be reviewing for this series of Back to School reviews.  Joy of Sex is officially credited as being an adaptation of a sex manual that was popular back in the 70s.  According to the imdb and Wikipedia, Joy of Sex went through a rather tortured development.  At one point, it was going to be an anthology film, starring John Belushi and co-produced by National Lampoon.  However, Belushi died of a drug overdose, National Lampoon abandoned the project, and the final film turned out to be another high school film.  Imagine Fast Time At Ridgemont High … but really, really bad.

Leslie Hindenberg (Michelle Meyrink) is a student at Richard Nixon High School.  She’s the daughter of the school’s phys ed coach (Christopher Lloyd, playing what was probably meant to be the Belushi role) and, as a result, she is viewed as being untouchable, even by the sex-crazed boys of Nixon High.  The problem is that Leslie has recently discovered a mole on chest and is convinced that she has skin cancer.  Believing that she only has 6 weeks to live, Leslie sets out on a mission to lose his virginity.  However, she wants to lose it to the perfect guy and there aren’t many of those at her school.  (Can you really afford to be picky when you’ve only got 6 weeks to live?)  Add to that, everyone’s terrified of the coach…

Leslie’s lab partner is Alan (Cameron Dye), who is a nice guy.  He not only has a huge crush on Leslie but he’s also desperate to lose his virginity as well!  Problem solved, right?  Well, no.  See, Alan has been led astray by the new girl in school.  Liz (Colleen Camp) is tough, outspoken, and no-nonsense.  As soon as she shows up in school, she lets everyone know that she’s obsessed with two things — sex and drugs.  In fact, she’s especially interested in drugs…

A lot of students, of course, are suspicious of Liz.  She seems to be older than everyone else and speak in out-of-date slang.  “Could she be a narc?” some students wonder.  Well, actually, she is.  She is working undercover at Nixon High and is convinced that Alan knows who is supplying drugs to all of the students.  And, it must be said, that Colleen Camp really throws herself into the role.  As happens with most of the film’s subplots, the undercover narc storyline doesn’t really go anywhere but at least Camp made the effort.

Meanwhile, Leslie’s best friend has been kicked out of school because she’s pregnant.  Leslie approaches a local reporter, hoping to convince him to do a story about what’s happened.  And, while getting her best friend back into school, Leslie starts to wonder if maybe she’s found the right man to take her virginity…

(But wait!  We know she’s meant to be with Alan!  So, surely, the reporter will turn out to be a sleaze, right?)

But that’s not all!  Someone is running around the school and using superglue to play pranks.  Who could it be?  Will the crazy principle (Ernie Hudson) be able to maintain order until the big dance?  And will the portrayal of the school’s frequently confused foreign exchange student manage to get any more racist?

And what about Tom Pittman (Robert Prescott)?  Pittman is the most popular guy in school.  Pittman doesn’t really do a lot.  To make an undeserved comparison to Animal House, he’s kind of the Bluto character, just not as interesting.  Whereas Bluto smashed guitars and beer cans and gave inspiration speeches, Pittman tries to light his farts on fire and is something of a bully.  (There is a kinda funny scene where he’s suddenly nice to Leslie and everyone’s shocked.)  The most memorable thing about Pittman is that he wears thick black glasses which are held together by tape.  So, if nothing else, Joy of Sex is important chapter in the history of myopia in film.

Anyway, Joy of Sex has remarkably little joy and next to no sex.  I imagine that were riots in the theaters after this movie came out, as thousands of angry teenagers chanted, “We want joy!  We want sex!  When do we want them!?  NOW!”

There were a lot of great teen films released in the 80s.  Joy of Sex is not one of them.

Lisa Marie Bowman Does Michael Clayton (dir. by Tony Gilroy)

As part of my continuing mission to see and review every single film ever nominated for best picture, I recently rewatched the 2007 Best Picture nominee Michael Clayton

The title character (as played by George Clooney) is a sleazy attorney who “fixes” problems for one of the biggest law firms in New York.  When Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), one of the firm’s partners and Michael’s mentor, has a nervous breakdown while at a deposition in Minnesota and ends up in jail, Michael is sent to retrieve him.  Michael soon discovers that Arthur’s mental collapse was due to a class action law suit involving an evil, faceless corporation.  Before he reveals any more details, Arthur flees and is subsequently murdered by two assassins.  With the police calling Arthur’s death a suicide, Michael soon finds himself being pursued by the same assassins.

Though I’ve owned the DVD for a couple of years, this was only the second time that I had ever actually sat down and watched this film.  (The first time was during its initial theatrical run.)  There have been many insomnia-filled nights when I’ve gone to my DVD collection, fully intending on grabbing Michael Clayton and allowing the images of an unshaven George Clooney to flicker in my dark bedroom.  However, every time, I always ended up suddenly remembering a film that I wanted to see more. 

That’s the thing with Michael Clayton.  Having seen the film a second time, I can say that it remains a well-made film and an entertaining film and I can also say that I noticed a whole lot of small details that I had either missed the first time or had subsequently forgotten about.  Like a lot of best picture nominees, Michael Clayton is a good film.  It’s just not a very memorable one.  Seriously, is anyone surprised when business executives and attorneys turn out to be the villains in these type of films?  And if you couldn’t guess that Tom Wilkinson was going to end up dead from the minute he turned up on-screen then you may need to surrender your filmgoer card.

That said, Michael Clayton remains a fun little film and I enjoyed watching it even if it was predictable.  In fact, I may have enjoyed it even more the second time around because I currently work for an attorney so I was able to spend the whole movie playing the “What would my boss do in this situation?” game.  (Hopefully, the first thing he would do would be to send his loyal and capable red-headed assistant on a nice, long, all-expense paid vacation Italy.)  Beyond that, Tony Gilroy’s direction is efficient and fast-paced, George Clooney gives one of his less-smug performances (It can be argued that Michael Clayton — along with Up In The Air and The Descendants — forms Clooney’s Mediocre White Man Trilogy) and Tilda Swinton deserved the Oscar she won for playing a villain who isn’t so much evil as just really insecure.   However, for me, the best performances in this film come from two unheralded actors by the name of Robert Prescott and Terry Serpico.  Playing the two assassins who pursue both Wilkinson and Clooney, Serpico and Prescott play their roles with a nonchalant sort of respectability that is both compelling and genuinely frightening.  During those brief moments when Serpico and Prescott are on-screen, Michael Clayton actually becomes the film that it is obviously trying so hard to be.