If you are the right age, it is easy to get nostalgic for the golden era of the teen sex comedy. In fact, some of them hold up pretty well – the first Porky’s has an unusually complex storyline and The Last American Virgin offsets its comedy with some unexpected moments of intense drama. However, other films in this subgenre haven’t aged so well. Case in point: Private Lessons, a competent but underwhelming exercise in raging hormones, bare boobs and clean-scrubbed smut.
Private Lessons is the story of Philly (Eric Brown), a young rich kid who is regularly left alone at the mansion by his perpetually traveling businessman dad. Like any 15 year-old boy, he’s constantly thinking of sex and plotting ways that he and his best pal can see chicks in the nude. His adolescent prayers are answered when dad leaves him alone for three weeks with new maid Nicole (Sylvia Kristel), who is scorching hot. Better yet, she’s hot to trot, has an eye for him and starts trying to seduce him. Of course, things aren’t quite what they seem – Nicole is involved in an uneasy partnership with shifty chauffeur Lester (Howard Hesseman), who has his eye on the fortunes of Philly’s father…
The end result a mess that manages to be daring and lame all at once. It’s daring in the sense a lot of screen time is devoted to Kristel in various stages of undress coming on to Brown, who was a mere 16 years old when this was shot (it would be interesting to know how they got around the child-labor authorities with that). Even though these scenes are handled in a pretty ‘vanilla’ way, they still have a shuddery feel of kiddie porn about them. If you take into account all the female teacher/boy student scandals that have become a staple of tabloid news since the Mary Kay LeTourneau story, that adds an additional creep factor.
Unfortunately, Private Lessons is lame in that such shenanigans never manage to spark any real excitement. Writer Dan Greenburg, who adapted this from his novel (!) and also cameos as a motel clerk, takes the lascivious sting out of most of his material by writing it in a depth-free sitcom style that always pulls its punches. This “tv-with-bare-boobs” feel is enhanced by the flatfooted direction of Alan Myerson, an episodic television vet who fails to use any cinematic flair to draw out the comedic or sexy possibilities of the material(other than the obligatory soft-focus sex scene montages).
The saving graces of Private Lessons are that it is well cast and each actor gives their all. Kristel is sexy and shows a decent gift for light comedy as the seductive maid and Hesseman is a scenery-chewing delight as the evil chauffeur (he does everything but twist his mustache and laugh maniacally). Eric Brown is a big surprise, being not only believable but also quite sympathetic in the role of the horny yet good-natured hero. Finally, there is a fun, scene-stealing bit from Ed Begley, Jr. as a tennis coach who comes to Philly’s aid when he is in trouble.
Additional amusement is provided by the pop hit-laden soundtrack, the kind of package that could only be put together before music licensing became such a costly proposition – John Cougar, Earth Wind & Fire, Air Supply and Rod Stewart ( yes, they use “Tonight’s The Night” AND “You’re In My Heart” in the sexy moments). Of course, half the fun in this area is how absurdly on-the-nose most of the song selections are: a montage of heartbroken moments set the tune of Randy VanWarmer’s “Just When I Needed You Must” is more likely to produce guffaws than sympathy.
Trivia note: a few years later, Eric Brown would star in They’re Playing With Fire, in which he got to bed Sybil Danning. This leads to two obvious conclusions – 1) based on this and Private Lessons, Eric is the luckiest bastard to ever walk the face of the earth. 2) he had the best agent in the history of show business.