Teen Sex Comedies: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Teens plus sex plus comedy is the foolproof formula that kept thousands of Blockbusters in business for the entirety of the 1990s. The genre has slowed down in recent years, but its appeal remains eternal. Goofy laughs coupled with the promise of sexy hijinks? It’s the fast-food value meal in screen form – tempting when you’re ordering, tasty as hell while you’re consuming it, with a decent chance you’ll feel disgusting an hour after you’re done.
“We’re all interested in sex at some level,” says Kat Ellinger in Teen Movie Hell, explaining the genre’s timeless allure. “And comedy is the perfect vehicle to explore the absurdity of it all.” Amen! But not all sexy laughers are created equal. Hop in our souped-up sex van as we explore the absurd gamut of teen sex comedies, from the Good to the Bad to the Ugly.
The Good: The Last American Virgin (1982)
From its trailer, you probably wouldn’t guess that The Last American Virgin has more on its mind than contemporaries like Hardbodies, Joysticks, or The Bikini Carwash Company. And on the surface, the plot is pretty boilerplate -- geeky Gary, suave Rick, and tubby party animal David are all on an epic quest to lose their innocence.
But Last American Virgin, while supplying some of the dopey comedy set pieces you’d expect, veers off the traditional blueprint with unwanted pregnancy, abortions gone wrong, and cruelly unrequited love. No teen sex comedy gives its audience a bigger kick to the front of the Levis, an unexpected and wholly realistic final scene that crumples poor Gary’s heart and throws it out the window of a moving car. While Last American Virgin never reaches the sublime heights of Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Say Anything, it at least has the courage of exploring the consequences of sex, both physical and emotional.
The Good: Risky Business (1983)
Despite its teen protagonist, steamy sex scenes, and the hilarious presence of Curtis “Booger” Armstrong, Risky Business doesn’t seem like a teen sex comedy at all. (That’s a compliment.)
Why does Risky Business feel like it belongs to a different genre? For one thing, it looks like an actual movie, not a direct-to-video sex romp filmed over five days in some abandoned high school. The stars help too, although neither Tom Cruise nor Rebecca De Mornay had yet become famous. This movie, of course, changed that.
It’s also cynical as hell, simultaneously rejecting achievement (so long, Princeton, hello, University of Illinois!) and embracing greed (Joel, a member of the Junior Entrepreneurs Club, finds his calling in the sex trade). Roger Ebert compared Risky Business to The Graduate, calling it “one of the smartest, funniest, most perceptive satires in a long time.”
The Bad: Zapped! (1982)
It’s one thing to peek into the locker room shower for a glimpse of naked classmates. It’s another to forcibly undress them in front of the whole school, the old public-shaming-via-telekinesis trick.
Charles In Charge stars Scott Baio and Willie Aames conspire to use Baio’s weird powers for naughty gains, a premise that might have worked if the comedy were the least bit funny. But critics took a baseball bat to it. We’re not sure why The New York Times bothers reviewing stuff like this, but the esteemed Vincent Canby broke out the r-word to describe it: “A half-baked, rather (r-word) parody of Carrie and a number of other films that, using the awesome power of their ignorance, drove telekinesis into the ground.” Zapped! currently sits at a jaw-dropping 6% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Virtually the only fan of Zapped! is the film’s star, Fox News and Republican National Convention regular Scott Baio. “Great movie. Loved it then, love it today,” he told AV Club. “I get more people asking about that movie than anything, no lie. And I had a ball making that. A cute, fun teen movie, and it made money. And it had Scatman Crothers!”
We assume Scatman has disavowed any association.
The Bad: She’s All That (1999)
She’s All That is mostly inoffensive, even when it’s offering up 90 minutes of the biggest cliche in teen sex comedies: Girls go from hideous to va-va-va-voom once they take off their glasses and let down their hair.
And we admit to being curious about He’s All That, the 2021 gender-flipped version starring TikTok star Addison Rae. How does it work these days -- the guy takes off his beanie and lets down his … abs? (Watch the trailer and you’ll see what we mean.)
Both movies are bland teens-fall-in-love pix. But we’re just not down with either comedy’s central message: Why be arty, weird, and, well, interesting when you can look like everyone else and get elected to prom court?
The Bad: Screwballs (1983)
Screwballs might as well be Spring Break, The Malibu Bikini Shop, or Fraternity Vacation, all movies that revolve around teenage boys’ desperate attempts to catch a glimpse of a topless co-ed. At least Screwballs has the decency to not pretend it’s anything more -- it’s all one fevered pursuit of perversity, with our “heroes” getting comic shots to the groin more often than accomplishing their goals.
The jokes are terrible and obvious. Characters with names like Melvin Jerkovski and Purity Busch make up the student body at T&A High School (we weren’t kidding), pursuing their horny dreams with a heaping helping of hormone-fueled enthusiasm.
Screwballs might fall into the “enjoyably terrible” category, depending on your affection for this kind of good-natured stupidity. Teen Movie Hell says Screwballs is like “Mad Magazine guest-edited by the staff of Hustler,” which for some viewers is probably an endorsement.
The Ugly: Porky’s (1981)
Porky’s is a sort of short-hand for “teen sex comedy,” but other than being one of the first out of the gate, we’re unclear why it deserves the distinction. Its sexual politics aren’t any more or less enlightened than most movies in the genre, but are we the only ones who think Porky’s is aggressively unfunny?
The dull “teens,” third-tier actors clearly in their 20s and 30s, embody whatever’s the opposite of charisma. There’s not a joke to be found unless you count the guys’ nicknames (Pee Wee, Meat), clumsy, unimaginative euphemisms for their junk. The movie is also literally ugly, poorly shot with several scenes so dark it’s hard to tell what’s going on.
On a completely unrelated note, Porky’s is the third trailer in our review (along with Risky Business and Last American Virgin) that features a car getting dunked in a lake. Ferris Bueller at least had the decency to mix it up and send Cameron’s dad’s car into a ravine. Did anyone ever laugh at this trope - ever?
The Ugly: Say It Isn’t So (2001)
The Farrelly brothers (There’s Something About Mary, Kingpin) have made some comedy classics. Say It Isn’t So ain’t one of them. We won’t waste a lot of digital ink on this one -- suffice to say, American Pie’s Chris Klein falls in love with a girl who may or may not be his sister. Even when it turns out that she’s not, the movie continues to pummel us with incest jokes. Sex comedies have rarely felt so icky.
The Ugly: Ryan’s Babe (2000)
ComedyNerd recently named The Room as one of the funniest comedies of the past 50 years, so we’ve long been dedicated students of the school of “so bad it’s good.” But consensus on the little-seen Ryan’s Babe is that it’s so bad, it’s horrendous.
Ryan’s Babe qualifies as a teen sex comedy in that it stars a young man in pursuit of carnal cheerleader delights in an ostensibly amusing manner. But we can’t exactly recommend it. Here’s a representative handful of user reviews from IMDB:
"Ryan's Babe" is utterly unwatchable …
The loosest collection of random happenings I've ever seen committed to film …
It left my brain feeling like it had been drained of oxygen. I was bewildered, frustrated, and in pain. I highly recommend it if you hate yourself.
Admit it, we’ve intrigued you. If you’ve got $3.99 and an empty evening ahead of you, take the plunge.
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Top image: Cannon Film Distributors