2017 was a rough year for studio comedies. The year was full of films like Baywatch, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and Snatched. There were a few standouts like The Big Sick and the Disaster Artist but the traditional studio comedy wasn’t in a strong state. Filmgoers had to go to the independent film market or to the genre-blending superhero films like Thor: Ragnarok and The Lego Batman Movie for a good dose of laughter. This year got off to a decent start with Game Night (which was praised more by others than me). Now we arrive at the directorial debut of screenwriter Kay Cannon, Blockers.
Blockers at first glance feel like just any other teen gross-out sex comedy. In some respects, it isn’t all that different. The movie acts and feels like other films of its genre but underneath the surface, it is a bit smarter than the average studio comedy. This is a comedy about parents coming to terms with their kids entering the next stage of their lives. Outside of that the movie is consistently funny and embraces it’s over the top nature.
There have been many movies made about teenagers attempting to lose their virginity. It is a tried and true formula, look no further by how successful films like American Pie, Superbad and Porky’s are. But, how many of them are about teenage girls looking to lose their virginity? Blockers take several fresh approaches to this reliable formula. The adults in these types of movies (or a lot of teen comedies in general) simply act as authority figures; villains for our teenage heroes to overcome in their quest for sex (or drugs or whatever else the teenagers seem to want). Blockers is different than that. Oh sure, it has all the typical gross-out humor scenes that you’d expect to see in this type of movie but there are two key creative choices that help Blockers feel fresh. The teenagers are teenage girls and the parents are the main characters.
Blockers is a good example of how good role reversals can work. This might fall under the category of teen sex comedy but this is centered around the parents. Wisely the movie never makes one group of characters the villain or heroes. The characters in this movie just aren’t seeing eye to eye and the protective side of the parents start to kick in. This means all the characters are actually fun to be around. We never get stuck in a situation where we hate following one set of characters which keeps the movie enjoyable.
The movie is headlined by Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz. Each one is going through something different with their own child and has distinct personalities from one another. Leslie Mann is a proven comedic talent and does terrific work here. Ike Barinholtz has a tendency to overcook his scenes and has too much of the “wink wink look at my comedy, SNL, style of humor” (which is fine for SNL but I don’t think it entirely works here). That being said he is still solid in the movie. John Cena is the standout of the movie. Cena has proven he isn’t a great acting talent on screen but Cena shows just how funny he can be. Cena is consistently funny throughout the funny and never shy’s away from the more raunchy scenes of comedy.
The three of them actually work really well together. The situations they get involved in (and their reactions to said situations) are obviously over the top, broad and not realistic. However, the emotional part of the journey is realistic and the three of them actually are able to pull off that side of the movie when the time comes.
The three girls playing the parent’s daughters all feel like they are all friends in real life. Kathryn Newton, Gideon Adlon, and Geraldine Viswanathan play the three teenage girls all facing their own journey on prom night. Geraldine Viswanathan stands out the most and shows the most comedic range. The trio feels like modern teenagers and never try to do too much their scenes. The parents are already over the top enough, having the teenagers a bit more grounded and low key makes for a bit of a breath of fresh air.
I must confess Blockers is not normally my movie of choice. I don’t get very excited for raunchy gross-out teen sex comedies and there aren’t many movies of its genre that I really love (Superbad is one that I really like) but Blockers is one that works. The movie is consistently funny, always finding more creative and uncomfortable situations to put our main characters through. At the center of the movie is really a story of parents learning to let their child grow up and enter the next stage of their lives. Director Kay Cannon smartly weaves together this story in between all the comedy. There is some tonal inconsistency and this won’t be seen as one of the all-time comedy greats but for what it is, it is pretty fun. It does enough new to subvert expectations and look at this familiar story in a slightly fresher light.