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Joy of Sex
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by Jack Sommersby

"Dreadful High-School Comedy"
1 stars

Bombed at American theaters, which is no surprise being that hasn't a laugh in sight and and is curiously absent of any real nudity.

The Joy of Sex, by Alex Comfort, was a best-selling sex guide, so one can’t help but wonder how a fictional motion picture could possibly be adapted from it, and the answer is simple in that Paramount Pictures purchased the book rights so they could make a movie with the alluring title Joy of Sex, and the result is a brain-dead piece of garbage so rancid it would’ve been better deposited in dumpsters than theaters. To give an idea of the bottom-basement level of the dialogue, the heroine, Leslie Hindenburg (Michelle Meyrink), a high-school senior, says to her younger sister, “Does your pitiful existence have to revolve around bugging me, twit brain?” As for the pitiful plotting, Leslie, after seeing a magazine article on the link between moles and cancerous melanoma, spots a mole under one of her breasts (though why this would be the first time she were made aware of its existence is anyone’s guess), prompting her to visit her family doctor’s office where she mistakenly believes she has only a few weeks left to live, thus motivating her to desperately lose her virginity to whomever she can, which isn’t going to be easy being that she’s the daughter of her school’s martinet of a P.E. coach (an ineffective Christopher Lloyd) who makes it an unwritten rule to exact physically-tormenting revenge on those who dare give his daughter so much as a kiss on the cheek. Leslie’s best bet is her lab partner, Alan Holt (Cameron Dye), who’s neither the class hunk nor dork -- he’s handsome in an everyman kind of way but is hesitant in asking Leslie out because of her father, and is getting quite the forward advances from the voluptuous Liz Sampson (an alert Colleen Camp) who, unbeknownst to him, is really a thirty-year-old police officer working undercover to bust the school’s pot dealers. Alan is just as sexually frustrated and inexperienced as Leslie, and the advice he gets from his older bartender brother (“Sex is a stacked deck, and women hold all the cards”) is of no help (though it’s highly unlikely that any halfway-attractive bartender couldn’t get his halfway-attractive brother laid by any halfway-attractive member of the opposite sex). That’s the way Joy of Sex goes -- you have to constantly suspend belief just so the shoddy story can progress; and since the characterizations are so facile and the situations they find themselves in so absurd you simply don’t have the necessary investment so as to give a hoot how it all plays out. Maybe because the phenomenal Fast Times at Ridgemont High from two years earlier spoiled us we can’t help but feel alienated from the goings-on due to the moviemakers’ not having thought their material through with anything indicative of sound judgment. And I’m not talking “complexity” but a basic understanding of how teenagers genuinely relate to one another -- for all the lightweight stick figures rather than three-dimensional characters on the screen we might as well be staring at an ant farm for an (excruciating) ninety-three minutes. I was far from a fan of The Wild Life, which Ridgemont High’s Cameron Crowe also wrote, but at least there were semblances of organic clarity whereas Joy of Sex is listless and ill-defined from start to finish.

It’s difficult to believe the director, Martha Coolidge, was also responsible for the perceptive Valley Girl, which told the involving tale of a rich girl going against her privileged friends’ wishes in dating a poor punk rocker, couldn’t possibly perpetrated this near-unwatchable calamity that hasn’t so much as a single decent scene to its credit. Granted, Coolidge didn’t exactly display a whole lot in the way of technical virtuosity that last time out (then again, neither did Amy Heckerling of Ridgemont High), but that movie plausibly progressed and never lost sight of the confliction in its central romantic relationship -- you could sense the innate chemistry and built-in difficulties of two soul mates of different socioeconomic classes head-over-heels in love. It also benefited from first-rate performances by Deborah Foreman and Nicolas Cage; here, Meyrink and Dye are somewhat appealing but utter amateurs so pallid it’s a wonder they managed to stick to celluloid (I dare anyone to recall a single distinctive feature of theirs after the closing credits; the camera doesn’t particularly care for them, and neither, unfortunately, do we). The movie’s idea of wit is to have Leslie’s and Alan’s attempts at sex thwarted by a car mishap in a graveyard, a date revealing that he’s gay, and the manager of the sleazy motel Alan’s brother works for just happening to barge into a room where the Swedish hooker Alan has arranged to meet there. Nothing would be complete without some blatant xenophobia, of course, so there’s a Middle Eastern foreign-exchange student oblivious to American customs and catchphrases who’s the brunt of several unfunny gags; he wears three-piece suits everywhere and compliments his host’s mother’s dinner with, “Thank you for the shit.” (At least Long Duck Dong in John Hughes’s Sixteen Candles had a few good lines and wasn’t so repulsive you wanted to spray bug repellant on the screen whenever he appeared.) The loudmouthed school principal is a walking cliché and a dire waste of the talented Ernie Hudson; and a female science teacher who gets aroused when instructing her students on the reproductive systems of mammals never gets to build to an amusing payoff. There’s also a group known as the Blue Flamers who feast on baked beans and light their flatulence with butanes in cars at the drive-in movie theater. And, gosh darn, when Leslie is in a bathroom clumsily attempting to insert a diaphragm for the first time it winds up springing from her hand and sticking to the ceiling, which is a blatant steal from the late-night cable-television favorite Pink Motel. “I’ll pick you up in my vulva…Volvo” and assessing someone as having “the personality of a bobby pin” aren’t likely to endearingly endure like many of the quotable lines in Ridgemont High. And what are we to make of Leslie and a pregnant student Leslie has publicly protested the expulsion of calmly walking on the school grounds oblivious to numerous police officers in the background chasing the drug-dealing students during the big bust? (If it’s an attempt at a sight gag, it falls woefully short.) Joy of Sex is ghastly-looking to the point where you’d be surprised if a cinematographer had actually been on the set, and the editing clanks as if it were pulling duty on a rusted-over chassis. Sitting through the movie is akin to a week-long vacation at a leper colony.

Not yet on DVD. No small favor.

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originally posted: 05/27/15 09:30:12
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  02-May-1984 (R)



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