Director: Kay Cannon
Cast: Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Kathryn Newton, Ike Barinholtz, Geraldine Viswanathan
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“How do you expect society to treat women as if they’re equal when their own parents won’t?” demands Julie (Kathryn Newton) of her mother, Lisa (Lesley Mann). “I don’t know about that!” comes the exasperated reply. “I’ll deal with society tomorrow.” It’s not the kind of line you expect to hear in a teen comedy about three youngsters promising to lose their virginity on prom night, but Blockers isn’t your typical teen comedy.
The teen sex movie is a genre in its own right, thanks to a plethora of films in the wake of American Pie all striving not just to be coming-of-age high school flicks, but also stories that champion the quest of young boys to broaden their bedroom horizons. Blockers, refreshingly, broadens the genre’s whole outlook beyond those limited perspectives, bringing us the story of three girls navigating the same waters. Needless to say, when their parents discover the trio’s pact, they are shocked and decide to stop it – and that very act raises the above question of why, how and whether it’s right for girls to be treated differently to boys when it comes to expressing and exploring their own sexuality.
That ability to address such questions marks Blockers out from the pack, bringing some heart and brains to the familiar tropes. But the film’s real success is being able to do that while still cramming the 100-minute runtime with all manner of laughs – from crass set pieces to lewd one-liners.
The majority of those come from the three parents trying to interfere with their children’s prom night antics. There’s Mann’s Lisa, an overbearing mum who isn’t ready for her daughter to head to university. There’s Mitchell (John Cena), a protective, overtly masculine figure with an unhealthy paranoid streak. And there’s Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), an estranged dad who is never around. They take a while to gel as a comic unit, particularly when compared to the natural chemistry between their kids, the competitive Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), the more confident Julie and the quieter Sam (Gideon Adlon), who is hiding her homosexuality from everyone around her. They’re believable friends, and, best of all, wonderfully rounded characters; there’s a welcome diversity in their trio, but in a way that’s completely incidental, as the nerdy, the determined and the experimental all collide in ways that break stereotypes and subvert expectations. It joins To All the Boys I Loved Before and Love, Simon in 2018’s class of teen movies that have real nuance to their line-up of people and tell stories that have long been absent from multiplex screens.
The way each of their narratives wind up is pitched perfectly by director Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect) and writers Brian and Jim Kehoe, finding ways for the kids to grow up and learn lessons without resorting to anything over-the-top or awkward – there’s a common thread to each character’s arc, which, at its core, involves them taking control of their own stories and desires, never framing them as the victims their parents fear their might become. The joke, in other words, is firmly on the adults.
Indeed, the over-the-top elements hail primarily from the supposedly more mature side of the fence, as their parents absorb the majority of gross-out stunts; while it’s a shame to see superfluous vomit jokes, it’s not a shame to see the grown-ups crash another couple’s adventurous night in, which is played with spot-on slapstick, perhaps literally (ahem). But, like the younger generation, there’s a satisfying substance to the old folks too, as Barinholtz’s screw-up of a dad charts a course towards potential redemption; this is a film that manages to sympathise with empty nest fears and parental concerns, while still feeling young and progressive. Even then, it doesn’t ram that delicate juggling act down our throats, letting us focus on the immediate chaos for now and worry about the bigger picture tomorrow. The result delivers on laughs alone, let alone its other merits – what an unexpected treat Blockers is. This is one of the best mainstream comedies of the year.
Blockers is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial.
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