People have some hang ups when it comes to sex, especially the sexuality of young women. The new comedy from director Kay Cannon, the mastermind behind the Pitch Perfect films, approaches the double standard that sees young men cheered on for engaging in youthful sexual activity and young women scorned for a supposed loss of innocence by engaging in sexual congress through the eyes of a trio of panicked parents desperate to stop their teenage daughters from losing their virginities on prom night in Blockers. This is a comedy that works because of its talented cast and its willingness to play by the same raunchy rules as male-dominated comedies while retaining a notably sex-positive tone without sacrificing any laughs.
Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), and Sam (Gideon Aldon) have been friends since their first day of elementary school together. When the three young girls met, so did their parents. Julie was raised by her single mother Lisa (Leslie Mann). Kayla was raised by her hyper-competitive jock father Mitchell (John Cena). Sam was raised, in part, by her father Hunter (Ike Barinholtz). Years later, the trio of girls are preparing to graduate from high school and on their prom night enter into a pact to each lose their virginity. After the girls have left for their night of dancing, underage drinking, and first-time sexual encounters, Lisa sees that Julie has left her laptop open, giving the worried mother a look into the text messages exchanged by the girls which include a variety of suggestive emojis and #SexPact2018. Despite the protests of Hunter, who goes along anyway, the trio of parents attempt to track down their children in order to “cock block” them, in case you weren’t sure what the title is in reference to.
What helps Blockers work as well as it does is the fact that the screenplay by Brian and Jim Kehoe establishes the varying characters. The teenagers want to create their own identities, which isn’t always easy when you’re uncertain of who you are quite yet. Julie wants to create a sense of independence from her clingy mother. Kayla has a willingness to try different things in order to get a sense of what she doesn’t like, mainly in the form of chemical substances. Meanwhile, Sam is struggling with her sexual identity, hoping that perhaps a sexual encounter with her prom date Chad (Jimmy Bellinger) will help her shed that confusion.
On the other end, the parents are trying to cope with the fact that their children are growing up and separating from them. Lisa is afraid her daughter will make the same exact mistakes she made in her youth. Mitchell sees Kayla as a girl in need of perpetual protection, and the thought of her engaging in sexual activity would present a scenario where, in his mind, he failed to do so. Unlike the others, Hunter isn’t out to stop his daughter from sexual activity. Instead he’s trying to stop her from making a mistake with Chad. Even though his relationship with Sam is fractured from a divorce, he knows that his daughter is gay despite the fact that she hasn’t come out. Knowing clearly what each character’s objectives are gives Kay Cannon plenty of room to populate the film with colorful supporting characters and outlandish situations to flavor the more character driven aspects of the comedy.
Blockers is as much a coming-of-age story for its teenage characters as it is for its adult characters. Even as the film revels in various debauchery and moments of gross-out humor it retains an emotional core in its connection between its parents and children. One particular standout moment has John Cena’s Mitchell being lambasted by his wife (Sarayu Blue) for reinforcing a societal double standard that extends far beyond just sexuality. At the same time, the film never strikes a moralistic tone towards its teenagers and their desire to explore their sexual desires. There’s a deft balance struck in the themes that Cannon explores with Blockers that many other filmmakers wouldn’t think twice about.
The entire leading cast of Blockers anchor the film as it comically explores the idea of maturity, be it from its youthful perspective or that of its adults, all the while engaging in crass comedy. Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz bring their veteran comedic skills to the mayhem as John Cena continues his ascent as a comedic actor, building upon great supporting roles in Trainwreck and Sisters. The young newcomers playing their children hold their own in this escalating comedy of errors. Of the youthful trio, Kathryn Newton is more or less the grounded character, allowing Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Aldon to have most of the scene-stealing moments.
Sometimes Blockers plays it safe by leaning on its raunchier elements, which at this point might almost seem by-the-numbers. However, it’s a film densely packed with laughs that if a line or a gag falls flat there’s another that will deliver. Beside from being pretty damn funny, Blockers has a level of intelligence on display that rarely makes its way into these types of farces. No matter what new intoxication fad enters the youthful lexicon, Blockers has ensured that butt-chugging will be memorialized for future generations. That in and of itself is a great cinematic achievement.
Balancing bawdiness with brains, Blockers is a welcome twist on typical coming-of-age tales with a hilarious take on parental panic and societal double standards about female sexuality.