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Blockers is a solid raunch comedy that dares to let its teen girl characters be great

The better-than-average studio comedy also stars John Cena, Leslie Mann, and Ike Barinholtz as meddling parents. But they’re not its biggest draw.

A scene from Blockers
Gideon Adlon, Kathryn Newton, and Geraldine Viswanathan in Blockers
Universal Pictures
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

There are a few different comedic subgenres lurking in Blockers: a raunchfest, a teen caper, a slapsticky parenting farce, a sex comedy, and a full-on gross-out escapade. They all collide on prom night, and the result is a collection of jokes and set pieces that never totally gel but are still a cut above a lot of what tries to pass for studio comedy these days.

Blockers is a tale of two trios: three teenage girls who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night and three parents who are out to stop them. It’s also a thoroughly 2018 movie, pairing progressive ideas about sex and identity with the kind of emotional underpinning sported by a lot of raunch comedies in the Judd Apatow vein.

And for the most part, it works. Blockers isn’t groundbreaking or particularly memorable. As comedies go, it’s pretty standard fare. But its characters and performances keep it light on its feet, even when the writing gets clunky.

The teenage girls are the best part of Blockers

What feels most refreshing about Blockers is the well-roundedness of the teen girl characters at its center. Julie (Kathryn Newton) is effervescent, in love with her boyfriend Austin (Graham Phillips) and best friend to her single mom, Lisa (Leslie Mann), who’s just starting to come to terms with the fact that when Julie goes to college, she will be alone. Kayla (a terrific Geraldine Viswanathan) is an accomplished athlete who’s close to her father Mitchell (John Cena) and bringing her lab partner Connor (Miles Robbins) to the prom. Sam (Gideon Adlon), who’s going to prom with the fedora-wearing Chad (Jimmy Bellinger) but totally crushing on cape-wearing Angelica (Ramona Young), doesn’t see her father Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) much since her parents’ acrimonious divorce.

It would have been easy for the girls to get slotted into stereotypes — the pretty one, the smart one, the jock — but brothers Jim and Brian Kehoe’s screenplay, in the hands of director Kay Cannon (a former 30 Rock writer who also wrote the Pitch Perfect screenplays), mostly resists the impulse. Blondes can be smart, athletes can be funny, and teen girls can have complicated emotions, bad ideas, and good impulses all at the same time.

A scene from Blockers
The kids are heading to prom!
Universal Pictures

Lisa, Mitchell, and Hunter are less complex than their children, with Lisa in particular registering as half-drawn. (It’s probably not coincidental that the movie feels like it was originally written with three dad characters in mind.) Lisa is clingy and a little silly; Mitchell is a huge, strong guy who is also a softie; and Hunter, probably the most complex of the three, is a screw-up who is still sometimes the voice of reason. They all want to be good parents who don’t interfere in their daughters’ lives, but when they see a group text message between the girls talking about a pact to lose their virginity on prom night to their dates, the parents go into overdrive.

From there, the movie turns into a chase caper, the kids oblivious to their parents’ pursuit but always staying one step ahead anyway. The girls ditch prom early and head to a friend’s lake house afterparty, and their parents aren’t far behind; they’re also in hot pursuit when the teens all decamp to a swanky hotel for an after-afterparty.

The whole story unfolds as a series of set pieces, most of which involve embarrassing situations or hilarious scrapes. It’s pretty standard fare — you’ll laugh! you’ll wince! you’ll smile sentimentally! — but by modern studio comedy standards, that’s enough.

There’s Apatow blood running in Blockers’ veins, but with an update

John Cena, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Miles Robbins in Blockers
John Cena, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Miles Robbins in Blockers.
Universal Pictures

At one point, the parents, looking for the girls at Austin’s house, instead stumble in on his parents role-playing prom night sex. Later, to “prove” to a skeptical teenager that the trio are not cops nor parents, Mitchell takes part in a — well, in an activity involving alcohol, a funnel, a tube, and some ... squatting. There’s projectile vomit that leads to a car accident and some slinking in and out of hotel rooms and a bit of breakdancing, and in the end, everyone learns a valuable lesson about loving yourself and growing up.

All of this feels very much in the Apatow vein. Judd Apatow was not involved with this film in any formal capacity (though his frequent collaborators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg produced the film, and Mann, who is married to Apatow, has also been in a number of his movies), but the strain of film comedy he birthed with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up pairs raunch with sentimentality to serve up surprisingly moralistic messages — and that’s just what Blockers does.

The adults each have to overcome their own hang-ups to become the sort of parent their daughter needs, whether that means being less overbearing, more involved, or the right kind of supportive. And they do all this while wading through awkward situations, various bodily fluids, and a minefield of mortification.

But Blockers is also noticeably different from Apatow’s movies. It’s a little more diverse, for one, and four of the six leads are female. It’s not myopically focused on sex, instead tackling what true friendship looks like (both for the girls and for their parents) and how the relationships between friends evolve over time. (One of the film’s most refreshing character details is the purely platonic friendship between the three parents, two of whom are single.)

A scene from Blockers
The kids are all right. The parents ... not so much.
Universal Pictures

The movie’s conclusions about sex are pretty basic fare for 2018: Sex is fine, as long as it’s consensual and safe, and preferably with someone toward whom you have warm feelings. And the teenagers, male and female alike, seem pretty chill about whether they’re having it or not. The girls’ pact is more about growing up together than it is about satisfying any physical urges — another way the movie feels different from an Apatow film.

How much viewers enjoy Blockers probably depends on how happy they are with that message being couched in raunchy scenes, some of which feel shoehorned in rather than organic. (One scene with Austin’s parents left the audience in my screening laughing, but possibly less for its humor than its shock.) The best part of Blockers is its cast, all of whom inhabit their roles with aplomb and humanity, elevating the film from standard comedy fare to something that can be genuinely touching. There’s nothing terribly original about Blockers, but these days, a competent studio comedy is rare enough that it almost doesn’t matter.

Blockers opens in theaters on April 6.

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