When I first saw the trailer for Blockers, it seemed horribly retro: A film about three parents desperately trying to keep their high school senior daughters from losing their precious virginity on prom night? Hello? 1982 called, it wants its attitudes about female sexuality back.
Turns out, I was off-base. Blockers may not be the most evolved film out there, but it has a sneaky streak of feminism. (Not that surprising when you find out it was directed by a woman, newcomer Kay Cannon.) Indeed, there’s an actual scene where Sarayu Blue, playing the wife of John Cena’s Mitchell, scolds him and his co-conspirators for their regressive views on female virtue. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if the scene were added at the eleventh hour in response to potential backlash—but still, points for trying.
To be honest, that scene wasn’t even necessary. The film makes it clear all three frantic parents have their own reasons for trying to “block” their daughters. In Mitchell’s case, it kind of is that worst case scenario: He wants to hang on to his innocent little girl. (But at least he’s whacked by his wife for it.) But in the case of Leslie Mann’s Lisa, she’s trying to keep her daughter from making the mistake she made—that is, getting pregnant right after high school by a guy who would ultimately abandon her. As for Ike Barinholtz’s Hunter? He’s partly tagging along to reestablish a relationship with his daughter and partly because he wants to be friends with Lisa and Mitchell again, like it was in the old days, before he cheated on his wife, got divorced, and became persona non grata in their social circle.
More importantly, the film gives the three daughters interiority and agency. They’re best friends and have been since kindergarten. Lisa’s daughter, Julie (Kathryn Newton) has a serious boyfriend she’s ready to make a commitment to. Mitchell’s daughter, Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) thinks sex isn’t that big a deal and kind of wants to get it over with before college. (Her choice of date, campus drug cooker Connor, played with blissed out equanimity by Miles Robbins, almost seems too chill to care). And Hunter’s daughter, Sam (Gideon Adlon), is a closeted lesbian who’s trying to convince herself she’s straight, while secretly crushing on a female classmate who sports a majestic cape.
In some ways, the film does a much better job at establishing the closeness and simpatico of the teens than their adult counterparts. The adult leads do have a very winning comic chemistry, but I was a bit baffled by the logistics of their friendship. Early in the film, Mitchell whines that Lisa never answers his calls—he seems more like a jilted lover than a fellow concerned dad. (His own wife feels like an afterthought.) I briefly thought the implication was that they'd had an affair. But their friendship is strictly platonic.
I guess to fully enjoy Blockers, you have to accept it on its own terms. If you do that, you’re likely to have a great time, watching as Mitchell, Hunter, and Lisa find themselves in increasingly absurd situations as they follow their girls from prom, to a house party, to an after party in a hotel (there’s a brief detour along the way at the house of a couple of randy parents, played by Gina Gershon and Gary Cole, who are taking extravagant advantage of their night of freedom). Pro wrestler Cena continues to prove himself to be a game and likeable comic lead—a more buttoned-down, slightly goofier version of The Rock. Barinholtz, playing a guy who's desperate to be loved, combines manic recklessness with appealing sweetness. And the delightful Mann has long established that she can do that good-mom-gone-rogue thing with the best of them.
Now about those progressive bonafides . . . The film may be more "woke" about female teenage sexuality than it initially lets on, but it’s certainly not above a bit of gay panic. The longest comic set piece, an intended show-stopper, involves Mitchell having to insert a tube connected to a beer keg into his butt (don’t ask). (That scene had my screening audience in stitches. Me? Not so much.) Another scene finds Mitchell cringing in horror as he’s forced to grope another man’s balls in the dark. Do better, Blockers.
For that matter, despite its protestations to the contrary, the film is even a little conservative when it comes to the daughters. I won’t say who does or doesn’t end up having sex—but suffice it to say, the choices it makes are hardly edgy.
Still, Blockers just works. Comedy is more alchemy than science and the magic of these three comic actors—plus the sneaky shrewdness of the script by Brian and Jim Kehoe—is an undeniably winning formula. I can nitpick all day, but you can’t fake funny.