The question is: How did they make a movie out of The Joy of Sex? They didn’t. They made yet another teen exploitation comedy, all about the usual problem of losing one’s virginity. This one takes place at Richard Nixon High School and involves a girl (Michelle Meyrink) and a guy (Cameron Dye) who set out to accomplish this goal.
The birth of this film was difficult. For years people worked on screenplays that might fit the exploitable title, but nothing worked.
When the current film finally came together, it was known as National Lampoon’s Joy of Sex until a couple of months ago, when the Lampoon requested that its name be taken off the project.
That’s just as well. This Joy of Sex doesn’t really have the proper quotient of gross-outs to merit the Lampoon moniker. It has a lot of stupid, tasteless jokes, but it also has a few genuinely funny ideas – and a buoyant spirit, too.
It was directed by Martha Coolidge, the director of Valley Girl, the charming sleeper of 1983. Coolidge is an intelligent person, and that makes her, in a way, the wrong choice to film this kind of movie; she doesn’t quite deliver the down-and dirty goods. (It’s almost nudity-free, for example – practically a sin in this genre.)
But she is responsible for the tone of some of the sly, deadpan humor. The situations are stock – like the monkey business in the sex-education class – but Coolidge injects some life in the proceedings by casting Joanne Baron as the repressed teacher who looks starched and proper while hissing lasciviously about the sex life of “The fascinating flatworm!”
And Coolidge has selected some attractive actors. Colleen Camp does funny work as an overdeveloped newcomer to Nixon. There are many oddballs among the supporting cast, and they keep the film watchable even when the material lets them down.
Many of the actors were also in Valley Girl, including the leads. Michelle Meyrink is fetching as the heroine who finds a mole and (naturally) believes it is cancer. Thinking she only has a few weeks to live, she sets out to discover what sex is all about. After a number of failures, she’s discouraged: “I’m trying to be an easy lay,” she sighs. “Doesn’t that count anymore?”
Cameron Dye doesn’t register as strongly as the boy, but the film does shift subtly toward the girl’s story, which manages to touch lightly on the issue of a pregnant girl getting kicked out of Nixon High.
There’s also a subplot about an undercover narc among the kids. Like most films of this kind, Joy of Sex makes no bones about the sexual activity and drug use rampant among high-schoolers. It treats them as matters of fact.
Finally, Coolidge can’t make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. The film is weighed down by the conventions of exploitation films. But there’s enough offbeat and/or funny stuff in Joy of Sex to make me. look forward to a film in which Coolidge works from decent material.
First published in The Herald, August 8, 1984
Yes, big fan of Coolidge here (Valley Girl is a dream), but this doesn’t do it – not that I’ve seen the movie since ’84 (I did a career-appreciation piece on Coolidge for Film Comment in the early 90s and I’m pretty sure I skipped a re-watch on this one). Meyrink was also in The Outsiders and Real Genius and dropped out of movies shortly thereafter.