Film Review – Blockers
Blockers (2018) is the kind of sex comedy that does what many good sex comedies do. It’s starts off with a premise that adheres to lowbrow antics – high school kids discovering their blossoming sexuality – and then handles it in a mature, insightful manner. While advertisements fool us into thinking we’re getting something raunchy, we end up experiencing a story that has more than just titillation on its mind. American Pie (1999), Superbad (2007), and even going back to Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) – they all treated their characters like real human beings, transitioning from kids to full grown adults.
The difference that writers Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe, and director Kay Cannon do with Blockers is to incorporate the perspectives of the parents. Let’s face it: being a parent is a tough job. You’re expected to feed, clean, and look out for a human life for nearly two decades, and then all of sudden stand back and allow that life to go off on its own. When all you’re accustomed to is taking care of your child, that natural instinct stays with you even though your child is grown up. Some take to that change easier than others. As we see here, that adjustment can lead to all sorts of hilarity.
In many other sex comedies, the parents are usually shown as nothing characters, oblivious to the concerns of the kids. But here, the writing and direction provides for a nice balance between high schoolers eager to take that next step and the parents that are not ready to let go of the children they once knew. Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), and Sam (Gideon Adlon) are friends who’ve known each other since they were little. Now high school seniors, the three are eager to move on with college, careers, and relationships, which of course means sex. The three decide to make an agreement, where each of them would lose their virginity with their respective dates on prom night.
Through an unfortunate mix up involving text messages, the “sex pact” comes to the attention of their parents. Julie’s mom Lisa (Leslie Mann), Kayla’s dad Mitchell (John Cena), and Sam’s dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) all catch wind of their plan, and in a knee jerk reaction decide to stop the three girls from accomplishing their mission. In one long night, we witness the three parents go through an odyssey of wrong turns, missed opportunities, and absurd situations, all while Julie, Kayla, and Sam contemplate whether what they’re doing is the right thing after all.
The strength of Blockers is in how fully developed the characters are. Each one has a nice arc, culminating in them learning more about themselves and their respective family members. Lisa’s attachment to Kayla is drawn from her experience as a single mother and her fear of being alone. Hunter’s strained relationship with Sam is based on a past that Hunter has trouble coming to grips with, and Mitchell’s sense of obligation to protect Kayla comes from his deep seeded need to “rescue” her at all times. John Cena, who has always had good charisma, puts a twist into the macho character he played as a professional wrestler. His huge size and strength lends to his ability to draw laughs because he plays Mitchell as a softy. Mitchell is the kind of dad who tucks his shirts in a little too snuggly and can’t help but cry when things get too sentimental.
But let’s not forget about the kids, who are given just as much opportunity to flesh out their thoughts and motivations. Geraldine Viswanathan steals many of the scenes with her quick wit and delivery, but for my money Gideon Adlon is the most interesting character of the three. While Julie and Kayla wear their feelings regarding sex on their sleeves, Sam is much more guarded with hers. She realizes that her feelings may not match up with Julie and Kayla’s, and that difference causes her to tip toe around the subject until she feels comfortable enough to express it. Adlon plays her character smarter than your average teen. She realizes what she is going through and works her way through it positively.
Although I’ve talked a bit about what Blockers is about thematically, we can’t brush away the fact that this does contain all the gross out humor we would expect from the genre. Yes, there’s plenty of sex, butt, and vomit jokes, but I found these elements to be the weakest parts. It seems strange for a production that aims to handle the subject of sex in a open manner would still rely on all the same jokes that lesser films would lean on. Here is yet another example of male genitalia being used strictly for comedic sake, and to drive the point home the production decided to zoom in for some nice close ups. During one point in their adventure, Lisa, Mitchell, and Hunter run into Gary Cole and Gina Gershon’s married couple. Cole and Gerson’s characters come from left field, and their frankness about “experimenting” with their sexuality never fit in with the rest of the material.
But with all that said, I still found Blockers to be an entertaining trip from the first minute to the last. I don’t know if it’s the best sex comedy, but it definitely belongs in the same ballpark. This goes to show that the topic can be funny and actually have something perceptive to say. Sex isn’t something that should be ashamed of but embraced, understood, and respected.