Cockblocking. That thing one does, inadvertent or not, to impede the sexual congress of another. Just about anyone can be a cockblocker. The douchebag who stole your date. The overweight wingman paying way too much attention to her obviously interested friend. Your overbearing, sensitive dad. Anyone who desires, for a myriad of reasons, two people’s nether regions not to mate. Cockblocking can be fueled by jealousy. A sense of machismo competitiveness. Or your mom being driven into a state of controlling mania by the thought of you losing your flower on Prom night.
Blockers, the debut comedy from Kay Cannon, she of Pitch Perfect scripting notoriety, finds a triplet of high school senior besties faced with the ultimate cockblockers: their parents. Written by brothers Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe, this down and dirty R-rated comedy pits two primal urges against one another – that of the horny teenager and the fearful parents attempting to preserve their children’s sexual innocence.
The film, which opened at SXSW to strongly positive reactions and good word of mouth, feels like a modern-day update to the teen sex comedies of decade’s past, with shades of American Pie and Superbad and as far back as Animal House but with a progressive, appropriately modern twist. The comedy pivots around two groups – three female teenagers and their three nosy parents; one trying to get laid, the other trying to prevent that at all costs. For a screwball comedy, Blockers gives Gen-Xers a pertinent crash course in feminism, drawing meaningful critique out from what could have been a regressive premise.
The idea of a trio of untrusting helicopter parents, believing they know what is best for their daughters, pursuing them throughout their prom night as if brandishing a chastity belt, makes for some batty situations – Fast and Furious “inspired” car chases, butt-chugs, a naked game of hide and seek – but Blockers succeeds in smuggling in a fresh perspective on the outdated Teenage Damsel in Distress.
Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) have been best friends since their first day of school and with senior year coming to a fast close, they’ve made a pact to all lose their virginity together. And though overly-involved parents Lisa (Leslie Mann) and Mitchell (John Cena) – as well as distant dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) who gets unwittingly roped into the situation – think it’s their duty to #PreventPenetration, Blockers makes great efforts to show these women as capable of making their own decisions, teaching their folks a lesson about trust, girl power and letting go along the way.
There seems to be one high-school sex comedy that seizes the zeitgeist once every decade and Blockers could very well be 2018’s answer to the 00’s Superbad, the 90’s American Pie, the 80’s Sixteen Candles and the 70’s Animal House. Though most of its gags have limited staying power – I’m hard-pressed to remember what exactly had me howling a mere day later – the film is a laugh a minute affair in the theater and, equally importantly, communicates the teenage ethics of this day and age. Should teenagers latch onto this the way they did the aforementioned comedy, Blockers could enter quick cult status level if not spell wide-spread financial success.
What works so well about Blockers is the mishmash of performers. John Cena is a delight playing against type as a tight-laced, emotionally overwrought dad (when we first meet him, he’s beaming, introducing himself as his daughter’s “hero”) and Leslie Mann gives a performance riddled with unusual complexity, oscillating between the understanding and buddy-buddy mom, the totalitarian disciplinarian and the raw, tender human being. The three young ladies are solid but Viswanathan makes the biggest splash as Cena’s wild child daughter.
Barinholtz (Sisters, Neighbors) is like a wind-up toy cranked up as high as he will go as the group’s socially mismatched divorcee. There’s a subplot regarding his daughter Sam’s budding sexuality (hint: she’s not straight) that is handled in a sweet, celebratory manner too rare for studio films. From her friends’ acceptance to her father telepathic understanding to her cape-wearing crush (Ramona Young), everything revolving around her struggle to come out felt right.
Formulaic, scatological and over the top, Blockers can be unabashedly childish but it’s also good-natured, big-hearted, and almost quietly revolutionary. Also funny, which for some odd reason doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite for many a comedy nowadays. For a studio comedy about milf sex games, drug chefs and losing one’s virginity, Blockers has a surprisingly good head on its shoulders.
CONCLUSION: Blockers is an often hysterical and surprsingly poignant redux on the teenage sex comedy, one that trojan horses in progressive ideals of female empowerment within its laugh-a-minute, but highly disposable and often immature, gags.