7 out of 10
Leslie Mann as Lisa
Directed by Kay Cannon
Profane, hilarious and occasionally poignant, Blockers is less of a re-invention of the modern teen sex comedy and more of a leveling of the playing field. Grabbing onto the keystone of the teen sex romp — losing one’s virginity — Pitch Perfect screenwriter Kay Cannon’s directorial debut flips the script on the old standby by subbing in a group of rambunctious teen girls who turn out to have the same things on their mind as the boys do. And if that was all it did it would probably be good enough, but a willingness to go more than skin deep into its characters and premise drivers Blockers to more interesting places than your average dick joke factory.
Far more so than you’d expect from its fairly standard setup. On the eve of prom night, a trio of best friends (Newton, Viswanathan, Adlon) decide it is time to lose their virginity and nothing and no one is going to stand in their way. Not nerves, nor absurd breaking dancer classmates, party-stopping cops, alcohol poisoning and definitely not their incredibly over-protective parents (Mann, Cena, Barinholtz).
Owing even more to the post-Apatow willingness/ability to mix sentimentality and crudeness than Cannon’s absurdity-laced Pitch Perfect trilogy (and produced Apatow protégé Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg), Blockers is far funnier than it has a right to be. The idea of taking the best bits from all the different takes and drafts of a potential film and merging them together into a glorious whole usually ends up creating a lurching Frankenstein’s monster slowly dying from its own cancerous growths as opposed to a distilled bit of narrative perfection but there are exceptions and Blockers is a good one. A lot of that comes down to Cannon and the screenplay’s willingness to take its premise at face value and use it not just as a vehicle for cheap laughs (though there are plenty of those) but for real investigation into the reality of how women view sex and the double standard put upon them for it.
Or at least as real as you’re going to get in a movie where a man drinks beer through his butt.
With a set-up as well-honed as this one, it would be the easiest thing in the world to take a bunch of male characters, flip the gender on the page and leave their point of view basically the same. Blockers not only actively resists that but comments on it at every turn, without getting overly preachy (though it does get close). At the same time, it grapples with the hackneyed premise by filling it with interesting characters and a strong cast. Newton, Viswanathan and Adlon are excellent as the teen girls on the make, particularly Viswanathan, who easily overpowers everyone else on the screen at least in part because she gets the best punchlines. Though the characters themselves are more sketched than well-drawn, the actors pack them with enough empathy to overcome the weaknesses even if they are stuck repeating the same actions for most of the film.
That said, the writers frequently seem unprepared how far to go down the rabbit hole of a teen girl’s desire (particularly without losing the comedy), which is when they stop and switch to the parents. On the one hand it makes sense; Mann and Barinholtz are experienced comedians who can lift even flat material, while Cena commits himself wholeheartedly to even the most ridiculous moments. More importantly, the parents have been imbued with life and depth, consistently surprising and upending expectations. Barinholtz’s Hunter, introduced as a poor-impulse control lout who embarrasses everyone around him, quickly and strangely becomes the lone voice of reason when the straight-laced Lisa and Mitchell plot to ruin their daughters’ evening for ‘their own good.’ It’s clear from early on the writers have both a much better view into what makes these three tick and how to use that to forthrightly attack gender perceptions than with their daughters, not to mention giving them better jokes.
On the other hand, it’s impossible not to imagine Blockers being better and more consistent if it had picked one group over the other, with the daughters having the best claim to relevance of theme and plot. The extra focus on the parents does make it funnier (though it clearly starts to run out of steam in the third act as gags get repeated). Maybe they didn’t write this once for the daughters and once for the parents and then smooshed those drafts together, but it certainly does feel like it.
None of which hurts the comedy. The gags go the lowest road possible but usually in the best way possible and the cast is more than up for it. Cannon’s focus on her characters as more than just joke machine’s gives Blockers some surprising depth, the kind which enhances comedy rather than detracting from it. Its ongoing identity crisis aside, Blockers is a good template for this kind of comedy done well. Filmmakers who come after (Cannon included) should take note of its strengths and its flaws and give us something even better.