What is ‘Blockers’?
When three parents get wind of their daughters’ prom-night sex pact to lose their virginity, the trio team up to put a stop to their plans. Cue all manner of hilarious scenarios that land the parents and kids in some compromising situations, but which eventually lead to some important lessons learned.
‘American Pie’, Flipped
If you saw the trailer for Blockers, a film which deftly uses a cockerel emoji in its title in place of the prefix that should be there, you’d no doubt think this is just another sex comedy in the American Pie vein. Pun unintended.
But, while its premise is almost exactly the same as the aforementioned 1999 flick about teens plotting to lose their virginity on prom night, Blockers turns the whole thing on its head. By replacing boys with girls and making the whole thing very 2018 – and, dare we say, progressive.
It seems bizarre to refer to a more realistic — and equal — depiction of women on screen as ‘progressive’ this far into the 21st century. But that it most definitely is. And when you look at recent reviews for the new Tomb Raider reboot by men who criticise Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft for not bringing enough sexy, you realise that we’re still a long way from gender parity – and a world away from a time when women are no longer objectified on screen. Blockers is an important step in the right direction.
Serious Message, Funny Execution
Building on the success of Bridesmaids, which was arguably the last mainstream comedy to really move the needle for women, Blockers puts three graduating girl high schoolers front and centre. While trailer, marketing and past experience might have you thinking that the film is just another movie depicting women as the ‘weaker’, preyed-upon sex, existing simply for the pleasure of the male of the species, it’s precisely the opposite of that. And not only does it upend expectations, it overtly addresses these ridiculous but long-held and damaging notions that cinema – and society – has of women.
If you’re thinking this all sounds a bit too serious for a comedy, you don’t have to worry about the laughs getting lost amid the messages. Rest assured it’s funny. Proof if proof were needed that a Hollywood comedy doesn’t have to rely on stereotypes and the inappropriate and downright tasteless to raise a titter.
It’s Not High Brow… and That’s Good
That isn’t to say there’s nothing here that’s near the knuckle. In fact, it goes beyond bone and practically out the other side at least twice. The humour is definitely not high-brow. On one occasion, we witness John Cena’s character take a funnel up his posterior and ‘butt-chug’ beer. We also see the after effects, much to the horror of Ike Barinholtz’s character, Hunter. It’s a fair bet that director Kay Cannon has looked to the Farrelly Brothers’ particular brand of gross-out comedy for inspiration.
But we’re okay with that – particularly when it leads to a greater prevalence of male nudity on screen, even if it does mean a close-up shot of a certain part of the male anatomy held in the vice-like grip of John Cena. Yes, Kay Cannon went there. And we’re grateful she did. Levelling out the balls-to-boobs ratio is a huge leap forward for Hollywood. Insert applause emoji here.
So what of the performances? John Cena is Mitchell, the over-protective father of a daughter who is more than capable of looking after herself. But he’s also a good guy who just needs some enlightenment – which he eventually gets. Mitchell is a shirt-tucking, cargo shorts-wearing, reserved kinda fella, with the sort of hairstyle that looks like it got “cut in the back of a squad car.”
Cena has been busy carving out a very appealing niche for himself in comedies, and Blockers is the culmination of the wrestler’s carefully plotted baby steps. He’s been the best part of several of the films he’s starred in, but it’s credit to Kay Cannon, screenwriting duo Brian and Jim Kehoe – as well as the cast – that he shares the spotlight here with the five other main players.
A Future Screen Treasure
Pick of the rest of the bunch is newcomer Geraldine Viswanathan as Mitchell’s daughter Kayla. She’s a headstrong girl who wants to get losing her virginity over with, and picks a prom date – Connor (Miles Robbins) — who she thinks is a sure thing but who’s more like “Yeah, if the mood takes us”. He is far more interested in concocting edibles to get himself and everyone else high, though, than making out with girls. It’s a habit that’s earned him the nickname “Chef”.
Anyway, in Viswanathan, Kay Cannon has discovered a future screen treasure. She’s got a realness that’s so easy to warm to and natural comic timing. There’s a moment near the beginning where she just manages to avoid a car in the road that does a great job of setting up the likable and funny performance you’re in for. She then gets to deliver lines like: “Penises are not for looking at, they’re for use — like plungers” with hilarious directness. Whether you agree with the sentiment or not, you can’t help but laugh.
Leslie Mann, meanwhile puts in a characteristically egoless turn as the neurotic single mum, and Ike Barinholtz as the hands-off, permissive largely absent father will have you welling up as he masterfully switches from joker-mode to tragic spurned husband.
In amongst the gross-out comedy and sex jokes, there’s room for one woman to deliver words of wisdom with a straight face. A thankless job, but someone has to do it, according to Kay Cannon. And the task falls to Kayla’s mum, Marcie (Sarayu Blue). These words are too important to get lost amid a bunch of lewd jokes, Cannon has decided.
“How do you expect society to treat girls as equal when their parents won’t?” Marcie snarls just after expressing her displeasure at the idea that girls losing their virginity is a different thing to boys popping their cherry.
“It’s not different,” she says. “It’s a double standard. Some kind of loss of innocence? It’s the same damn thing!” Hear hear. But does the film need this? In a feminist film dressed up in frat comedy clothing, it kind of undermines the film’s efforts to deliver its message in its smart and stealthy way.
Is ‘Blockers’ Good?
Like the recent Love, Simon, Blockers is craftily breaking new ground. Think sex comedy, think the frat-style humour and shenanigans of Todd Phillips films. And, similarly, think recent comedy vehicles for women, think movies written and/or directed by men who create female characters with stereotyped personas.
Blockers defies both, and presents three young, fully rounded women who each have, or come to have, a healthy attitude towards sex. And in each case, one that’s entirely personal to them. They’re all curious – but none of them falls into the trap of feeling like they have a ‘special’ something that they need to guard lest a boy take advantage.
And hallelujah! Every male character also has a healthy attitude. Neither the characters nor camera ever objectify women, and all the boys and men are respectful. Does the comedy suffer? Not a bit. Don’t get us wrong, the humour isn’t cutting edge – it’s toilet humour all the way. But that’s kind of the point. It’s a progressive, landmark film wrapped up in a low-brow mainstream gross-out comedy. Mainstream comedy has been crying out for a jolt – and Blockers is it.