UK Release Date: 30th March 2018
Runtime: 102 minutes
Director: Kay Cannon
Writer: Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, Eben Russell
Starring: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon
Synopsis: Three parents pursue their daughters throughout prom night when they learn that their respective offspring have made a pact to lose their virginity before the evening is over.
The teen sex comedy is an institution of cinema, dating back generations. More specifically, any film that revolves around the tried and tested prom night ritual of fumbling away your virginity in a friend’s bedroom while slightly tipsy due to beer pong defeats is destined to evoke American Pie. Given the status of Pie as a landmark in teen cinema, it’s dangerous territory to wander into, but Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon does so with great confidence in Blockers. By simply flipping the genders of the standard prom night tale, she has constructed something that feels as refreshing as it is funny.
It’s not that there’s anything especially revolutionary about the storytelling or approach to comedy here. Like so many recent Hollywood comedies, Blockers has been knocked about by a selection of screenwriters and many scenes have the feel of heavy improvisation. This also isn’t a movie that shrinks away from gross-out laughs, featuring an extended scene of anal beer chugging and a very funny sequence that combines full-frontal nudity – male, for a change! – and Jurassic Park.
The starting point for the different, interesting side of Blockers is its trio of female friends. There’s picture-perfect prom queen in waiting Julie (Kathryn Newton), crass sporting prodigy Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and the more awkward, introverted Sam (Gideon Adlon). They have been friends since their first day at school and that union is palpable, more reminiscent of the obvious buddies in Girls Trip than the wooden, chemistry-free zone of the similarly themed Rough Night. From the start, their sexual openness is unusual and refreshing, from Kayla’s comment that “penises are not for looking at” to their frank discussions about what goes where and when.
Over on the parental side, Julie’s mum Lisa (Leslie Mann) is struggling to come to terms with the idea of being alone once her daughter goes to college, Kayla’s dad Mitchell (John Cena) can’t handle his daughter’s burgeoning sexuality and Sam’s absentee father Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) just wants to get back into his offspring’s life. When they discover an online chat that hints at a prom night sex pact, they join forces in an attempt to put a stop to it, in reality looking for a chance to work through their own issues. These are parents who pretend to be liberal, but are actually as traditional as they come.
The key thing about Blockers is that, although the parents are the nominal protagonists of the story, audience sympathies are with the kids. All three of them are intent on following through the sex pact for their own reasons and it’s them who have all of the awareness and agency, as opposed to the dim-witted, blank-canvas men they are taking to prom. The kids are funny, smart and entirely in control of their lives, as opposed to the parents, who barely seem capable of tying their own shoelaces.
The performances are consistent and impressive, with John Cena a show-stealer just as he was in Trainwreck alongside Amy Schumer. His character is a man who cries at Frozen and prefers coffee to beer, in contrast to the caricature of the musclebound, protective dad that he could so easily have been. Mann, meanwhile, has great fun with a quirk that sees her character spout bizarre, muddled tangents whenever she’s trying to make a point. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s comic star Ike Barinholtz who’s the least funny of the three, though he gets a fair few solid lines.
As with just about every Hollywood comedy of the last decade, Blockers is at least 15 minutes too long and could’ve done with a much tighter script. It occasionally gets bogged down in improvisation and is on rather weak ground when it attempts to shoot for emotional depth. Cannon’s film is far more comfortable when it’s playing for laughs, and there are more than enough giggles here to sustain the running time. Crucially, though, this is a film that foregrounds female sexual desire and gives its women complete control of their own bodies. In the #MeToo era, that’s enormously important.
Pop or Poop?
For all of its sex comedy tropes and shaky emotional material, Blockers is a film that packs a healthy supply of gags, as well as a refreshing focus on female sex drive and desire as something positive, rather than something to be shot down or ignored.
Its central performances are utterly fantastic and, despite its overlong running time, it has enough energy to keep the laughs coming right up until the end.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.