In the 1980s, the teenage sex comedy dominated the film landscape. It’s really not an exaggeration to state that – for a full decade – the horny, hormone-driven comedies such as Porky’s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Hardbodies, Weird Science, Where the Boys Are, Revenge of the Nerds, Class, My Tutor and so many more basically did what comic-book movies are doing today.
And then, just like that, the genre all but went away. The American Pie franchise exists, sure. But that was a throwback tribute to a genre that Hollywood no longer wanted to gamble on. You might get an Easy A with Emma Stone, or an Eighth Grade from Bo Burnham. But these are more intelligent, less offensive, and are few and far between in the tentpole business model.
But why? The decision makes no sense, from this perspective. Movies still rely heavily on teenage audiences buying tickets for mainstream fare. Why not try and make more movies that speak directly to this audience, and the issues they are facing. Back in 1985, director Lisa Gottlieb did just that. She crafted the teen-sex comedy Just One of the Guys, and addressed rampant sexism that female students faced in high school.
The plot was simple. After being turned down for a valuable internship as a newspaper reporter, fledging journalist Terry Griffith (Joyce Hyser) enrolls at the cross-town school, but this time poses as a boy to see if her same piece will earn her the gig. But in revisiting Just One of the Guys for its 35-year anniversary, I realized that it’s a relic of a bygone genre, and I asked Lisa Gottlieb if she had any insight as to why Hollywood has all but given up on this type of storytelling.
The film industry certainly is cyclical, with the major studios frequently chasing after the same trend. And Lisa Gottlieb, who currently teaches screenwriting in Florida, is correct when she states that A-listers like Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith, Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise carried the biggest movies, and audiences steered away from lower-budget fare.
Studios stopped betting on up-and-coming teenage actors like Just One of the Guys co-stars Billy Zabka (fresh off his turn in The Karate Kid) and started leaning on bankable talents at the box office.
In Lisa Gottlieb’s opinion, these shifts killed the culture in which a movie like Just One of the Guys could get made, and find an audience.
Could the teen sex comedy genre come back around again? Absolutely, with some tweaks. If there’s one thing I noticed while revisiting Just One of the Guys, it’s that the sexist humor might not connect with audiences. (The character of Buddy, played by Billy Jayne, is basically Stifler on steroids.)
But the social commentary that Lisa Gottlieb worked into Just One of the Guys would be relevant in any decade. All it seems to take is a little confidence on the part of the studios to gamble on lesser-known young actors with charisma and chops who can carry a vehicle aimed at teenage audiences. Think of Elsie Fisher when she headlines Eighth Grade, or the Superbad guys when Seth Rogen took a chance on them. The next Sean Penn could be out there, waiting to play Jeff Spicoli for a new generation, so long as a director or producer is willing to give them a chance.
Just One of the Guys celebrates 35 years with a brand new re-release on Blu-ray. The highlight of the bonus material on the new disc is a reunion audio commentary track that features director Lisa Gottlieb along with her Just One of the Guys cast: Arye Gross, Joyce Hyser, Clayton Rohner, Toni Hudson and John Apicella. It’s currently available where Blu-rays are sold.
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