Love in the Time of Millennials
The teen sex comedy in film has usually been rooted in one single perspective: teenage boys desperate to lose their virginity. So it’s a little bit refreshing that Blockers instead focuses on female teenagers wanting to lose their virginity and their parents’ respective attempts to prevent that from happening on the prototypical time for such an event: prom night. But not only is the cast significantly different from the usual ground trodden by the likes of Porky’s and American Pie, we even have a woman in the director’s chair as well…even though she’s working off a script that was touched by at least FIVE different guys including the duo who wrote and directed the Harold & Kumar films. So does the change in perspective lead to a better product or is this merely window dressing for a heavily weathered plastic wall? Don’t skip to the end, let’s chat for a bit.
The film follows the day of prom for three young women who have been best friends since their first day of school: Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), and Sam (Gideon Adlon); as well as their respective parents in Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena), and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz). When Julie relates to her BFFs that she intends to lose her virginity to her long-time boyfriend that very night, her compatriots decide to follow suit with their respective one-off dates. However, while the trio are en route to prom and engage in some joke texts with each other, their parents accidentally discover their plans driving each of them insane. Lisa fears that her daughter will repeat the mistake that lead to her becoming a single mother, Mitchell can’t reconcile the fact that his daughter is maturing into a woman, but Hunter is the only one of the pack who disagrees with the mission on account of his designation as the deadbeat father and wishing his Sam had a fun night. However, Hunter also suspects that his daughter might be a lesbian, and may be going along with so-called Sex Pact out of obligation to her friends rather than her own feelings. The race is on for the teens to find alone time while the parents desperately (and pathetically) try to cockblock them….oh I get the title now.
So before I go anywhere, yes the film does take time to discuss the absolute hypocrisy of championing boys losing their virginity as early as possible to the slut-shaming of girls who try to do the exact same thing. Hell, the movie practically whips out a soap box at multiple points in the run time to speechify how ludicrous the discrepancy actually is. However, this really only works for one of the parents’ arcs, namely that of John Cena’s Mitchell. While Cena does fine with the material he’s given (he practically gushes charisma every time he’s on screen), the role is still underwritten for him to do anything of note. This is because his character doesn’t want his daughter having sex because of typical sexist norms despite the fact his character is also a big emotional softy as well. The problem is, this angle is only paid the barest of lip service to and instead we focus on the lives of Leslie Mann and Ike Barinhotlz’s characters who have way more going on than wanting to keep their daughters chaste.
Leslie Mann has the most traditional of character arcs in feeling betrayed by her daughter when Kathryn Newton’s Julie kept the knowledge that she is going to the same college as her current boyfriend. But a problem does arise towards the end when the pair get a satisfying conclusion to their character arcs, but it’s mostly hand waved off screen after an intense confrontation that was done by phone. At least it’s stronger than the relationship between Ike Barinholtz and Gideon Aldon’s Sam as the former is supposed to be an absentee father who only shows up for major events in Sam’s life but is later revealed to have more legitimate reasons for being away from his daughter. However, this felt more like a last-minute addition to make the character slightly more sympathetic and understandable for being so invested in his daughter’s night, because the rest of the film does not return to his original motivations; so the effect is a bit muddled.
At least the character of Sam offers a far more unique take on the teen sex comedy than usual. It’s established that her character is far deep in the closet, so much so that her own best friends have zero clue concerning Sam’s true sexuality. But like Love, Simon, this film finds a way to make her struggle to being honest about herself a little bit relatable and definitely sympathetic for the audience to follow. Come to think of it, all of the teenagers here do a great job with the material they’re given. Particularly from newcomer Geraldine Viswanathan, who embraces the raunchiness of the genre as much as she can. She swears like a sailor convincingly and acts appropriately with some sharp comedic timing, so much so that every scene she was in was a solid sequence in the production. Hell, the lady can pull off a decent character moment and make John Cena look even better than he’s been in years, so I’m highly interested to see what she comes out next with.
So it’s a bit ironic the film is marketing itself heavily with the adults taking top billing as many of the film’s solid character moments belong entirely to the young trio that make the emotional heart of the film. They definitely feel like friends, whereas the adults are established to be “former” friends reconnecting after years apart. But the reasons for said separation were pretty flimsy to begin with, and were just unnecessary given that the real conflict in the film is between them and their daughters. Adding a conflict amongst themselves just muddies the waters for what could have been a genuinely great film.
As it stands, Blockers remains as an okay comedy. Just a hair above the “mediocre” label and skewing closer to average. But then again, trying to reign in a script where five dudes were trying their usual raunchy material was no easy task for first-time director, Kay Cannon, who previously co-wrote the Pitch Perfect Trilogy. While I feel she has a lot to work on in the writing department, she is still nonetheless a very proficient director of actors getting everyone to produce the best possible reaction. On top of that, she likely brought out the best in the overwritten screenplay by taking the best possible gross-out scenes and pacing them accordingly with solid punchlines to boot. See Will Ferrell? It’s not so friggin’ hard to make such gags work in your comedies, maybe you should hire Cannon to control your terrible instincts.
So acknowledging all of my praises and complaints, I’ll award Blockers with a steady…
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