Movie Review: Blockers
Veteran writer and producer Kay Cannon makes her directorial debut with this raunchy comedy about three young women hoping to lose their virginity on prom night, and the parents who want to stop them.
Starring: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Sarayu Blue, Ramona Young, Kathryn Newton, Ike Barenholtz, Gina Gershon, Geraldine Viswanathan, Miles Robbins, Gary Cole, Graham Phillips, Gideon Adlon
Directed by: Kay Cannon
Running time: 1 hr 42 mins
By Katherine Monk
There’s a line in this new sex comedy that pretty much iterates its entire purpose. It’s something along the lines of: “Why is it that when men lose their virginity it’s a source of celebration and fun? But when women lose their virginity, there’s always something sad about it — a profound sense of lost innocence?”
I’m not quoting it exactly, but it’s a sentiment I have uttered myself aloud and in print over the course of bring a critic for the past 20-plus years. Highlighted by the huge success of the male-themed deflowering, Superbad, and the trashing of the female-oriented story of sexual initiation, The To Do List, it seemed Hollywood couldn’t convince itself, or its audience, that young women embracing their sexuality from an empowered position was a palatable or marketable option.
Blockers wants to tackle that position head-on, and with a former all-American centre on the field with John Cena, it looked like it could smash the box-office in a single blow. A teen sex-comedy that shares the same DNA as Superbad thanks to Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s involvement on the production side with Point Grey Pictures, as well as director of photography Russ Alsobrook, Blockers shares the same template: A clutch of besties want to lose their virginity and make a pact. In this case, it’s three young women who seal a sex deal slated for prom night. For Julie (Kathryn Newton), it’s a case of being in love. For the other two, Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon), it’s more like getting the big rite over and done with before college.
The premise is entirely believable, for the most part. It’s what happens when the parents get wind of their daughters’ prom promise that makes things uncomfortable. They want to perform an impromptu intervention and stop the girls from getting it on. The discomfort of dads crashing the grad dance is supposed to be where the comedy comes from — Wedding Crashers with a generation gap and some girl power.
I love the idea so much, it’s already turning what I thought would be a bad review into a soft one. I want to be a loyal feminist and support Kay Cannon’s first effort in the director’s chair because she deserves it. After paying her dues writing the Pitch Perfect series and producing shows such as Girl Boss and 30 Rock, Cannon makes her entry to directing with another first: The first woman to direct an R-rated studio comedy.
She puts all her experience to work here, and demonstrates a profound knowledge of what makes people laugh. She outfits former WWE wrestler John Cena in a pair of cargo shorts with a phone clip, Leslie Mann in a flower print dress and sweater set, and Ike Barinholtz in his best grown-up suit to play the meddling parents wandering through teenage wasteland. She nails the set pieces of predictable comic mayhem, and even adds a few unexpected beats in a thoroughly see-through script.
Cena’s open embrace of goofiness could be the beginning of a promising comedy career. Taking his cue from The Rock and Arnie, he’s turning his muscle into comic bulk, milking his big-man emotional vulnerability into a running gag.
Mann, on the other hand, is a gifted comic. She runs with each moment as the hovering mother, but she lacks the same complexity as Laurie Metcalf did in Lady Bird, again — because the script just wasn’t doing her any favours.
The kids are all uniformly fantastic. They pump fresh blood and authenticity into what’s already feeling a little worn out as far as genre goes. After all, Porky’s was so many moons ago. They’re also the ones who have to sell the whole premise. They’re the ones who have to convince us that a gal taking charge of her own sexuality is the beginning of a complex but happy adventure.
I say “HURRAY!” to the days of ownership and to the end of sexual guilt. There’s so much to explore, and to screenwriters Jim and Brian Kehoe’s credit, we get a pretty good speech from Saraya Blue as Cena’s wife explaining why empowerment is so important.
Yet, in terms of genre, the fact that so many grown-ups are involved at all feels like something of a betrayal to the core premise. In every other case of a boy losing his virginity, the parents are largely removed from the action, allowing the boys to become men within their own circle of peers.
The very presence of the meddlesome parents in this comedy suggests the young women have to negotiate for the full assertion of their freedom. The boys only have to find a willing partner.
You get the sense this would have been a much stronger, and much funnier, movie had parents been relegated to the sidelines for the duration — standing up and screaming at the ref for comic relief.
Blockers is the story of parents who can’t let go and micromanage their children’s lives. We get to ridicule them, but there’s something tragic in the whole mix once again. Sure, the taboo of experience is lifted from female shoulders, but they have yet to be given their own universe surrounded by their own peers in which to be empowered. Until that happens, Blockers is a good try, but a disappointing result.
THE EX-PRESS, April 6, 2018