On the page, there’s good reason to imagine Blockers won’t work, a fact readily backed up by an early trailer focused solely on gross-out hijinks over character. What’s refreshing is just how funny the film is, with a surprising amount of heart and character development. Not bad for a flick initially viewed as an American Pie also-ran. Most of the success likely belongs to writer of the Pitch Perfect series, and first time director, Kay Cannon’s steady hand at the helm. It’s also likely she’s to thank for a film that paints teenagers as real viable people, instead of stock tropes. Something enhanced by the fact that all three leads are women. In a way that’s not something which should need such a focus, as it needs to be done with more regularity. As it stands, it’s one of the key reasons Blockers easily trounces other films of its ilk.
Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) have been best friends since their first day of elementary school. Now on what they feel’s their last hurrah of High School, the girls make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. As presented, it’s never a rash decision, but one each girl makes concerning growth, as well as finding themselves. All the girls bounce off each other beautifully, though Viswanathan is easily the secret MVP of the group, not only because she gets the best jokes.
While the kids grew tighter over time, the parents drifted apart. Lisa (Leslie Mann) became “best friends” with her daughter. Mitchell (John Cena) has spent the intervening years making his daughter the ultimate athletic tomboy. Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) slept with the family babysitter and basically disappeared from Sam’s life. After stumbling upon texting chain between their daughters, they make their own vow, to stop their kids from losing their virginity at prom.
Going all in on the “2 films smashed into 1” mentality, Blockers does a commendable job juggling the the time spent with the parents and the teens… until it doesn’t. For the first hour, the division is even. Following the adventures, each group allows the film to change it’s tone without suffering from whiplash. While they may seem as if they’d get into more trouble, the younger set are relatively reserved, or as far as 17-18 year olds are expected to be, that is. It’s actually the adults who are subjected to the brunt of the insanity. Though they too slowly reveal a hidden depth, giving credence to their erratic behavior.
Take Hunter, for example. Initially painted as an embarrassing lout, it turns out he’s merely a screw up whose situation was more complicated than any of his friends could imagine. Not only does that make his character more sympathetic, but it helps explain his earnest pleas and attempts to stop his “once-friends” from making a decision they’re more likely to regret, than the actions of their children.
That same delicate touch is given to each of the six leads, especially as concerns the teens. These aren’t hormone monsters just looking to get their rocks off, but three women making adult decisions, either partially based on rebellion, or in hopes of embracing who they truly are. Which is why the movie’s greatest sin is spending a large chunk of the second half of the film with the parents.
None of that is to suggest there aren’t any gross out moments, as there are more than a handful, merely not the focus most may be expecting. For each instance of over-the-top hijinks, there are one to two scenes of genuine camaraderie or growth. Then again, maybe this is a simple case of misremembering, one where the strength of the character bits, frank discussions and big heart overshadow the more mainstream scenes.
Then there’s the utter brilliance of Leslie Mann. Sure, she’s been consistently cast in big films, but she never seems to truly get the credit she deserves, at least in a way that leads to a lead-lead role (films with or by family members excluded), as she does here. Like the rest of Blockers, she deftly straddles the line perfectly between raunch and sweetness. Her Lisa isn’t completely a crazy overbearing mother. Actually, she’s a woman acting out of fear and worry, wishing her kid won’t repeat her own mistakes.
Way too often, sex romps pay more credence to the shenanigans at hand, rather than the characters who are a part of the acts. Blockers skillfully turns this trope on its ear, by having the majority of those bits take place in the periphery, or fall on the shoulders of the parents. A great, though small beat, sees the trio of ladies and their dates walking through an after party at a ritzy hotel. Everyone else is knee deep in debauchery, partying it up. Julie, Kayla and Sam, on the other hand, are each set to fulfill the collective goal on their minds, everything else be damned.
Blockers may not exactly be the case of reinventing the wheel that some may be looking for. This is more of a refinement, the kind that’s a shining example of what more sex comedies should strive for. Next time maybe with just a tad less vomit.