Blockers (2018)

   Director: Kay Cannon  With: Kathryn Newton, John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan, Graham Phillips, Miles Roberts, Jimmy Bellinger, Ramona Young.   Release: Apr 6, 2018 R. 1 hr. 42 min. 

Director: Kay Cannon
With: Kathryn Newton, John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan, Graham Phillips, Miles Roberts, Jimmy Bellinger, Ramona Young.  
Release: Apr 6, 2018
R. 1 hr. 42 min. 

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I usually measure films based on their respective success within their genre (I.e., if a comedy is funny or if a horror movie is scary), but comedies, like horror films, have their own unique quotas to meet based on laughter. Meaning, how much did I laugh? Did I laugh consistently? Were there moments where I smiled big and reached for my sides? Or was I mostly giggling? 

When it comes to Kay Cannon’s “Blockers,” I can check off two of those boxes, as “Blockers” made me laugh consistently with its ability to turn the ever-so-familiar “parents stopping the children’s sex-adventure” storyline on its ear. Introducing female agency, societally relevant talking points, and providing genuinely funny moments involving both the parents and the kids. 

Telling the cliche plot of a group of parents (Mitchell (John Cena), Lisa (Leslie Mann), & Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) discovering that their maturing daughters have decided to make a sex pact for prom night. Planning to enter into womanhood, hand in hand, and on the same momentous night, but their parents are there to keep that from happening. Well, two of them are, because Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), Sam’s (Gideon Adlon) dad, knows his daughter is gay, but he fears that she is being persuaded by her friends (who are unaware of their friend's sexuality) to do something that is more revoking to her than exciting. 

The continuance of openly gay, ordinarily stylized, and respectively depicted characters is something that consistently shocks and awes me. On each occasion, it's almost like my own private revelation to see something that is a large part of myself being depicted on screen for the world to see. Almost influencing me to flaunt my own sexuality for the world to see, congressional Lubbock county is a typical counter thought to that rebellious idea though. Nonetheless, the inclusion of this character trait manifests emotional resonance for both Sam (Gideon Adlon) and her father, Hunter (Ike Barinholtz). It allows for the film to gain some well-earned dramatic heft that permitted for Ike Barinholtz to provide a more poignant performance than we’re familiar with, which along with Adlon’s remarkable performance creates a great duo. 

The other great duo is the sports-obsessed teddy bear in Mitchell (John Cena) and his show-stealing daughter, Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan). Mitchell (John Cena) is the only parent who physically shows his love for his daughter on multiple occasions from touching a nude fellow parent and even butt-chugging (don’t ask). John Cena is also perfect for the role as he becomes the sensitive jock whose daughter continues to break him down from the sports-riddled talking points of a father to the brink of tears. It’s the same as seeing the proverbial action star come down from his over-seriousness to over vulnerability as he provides one of the film’s best performances and joins his fellow pro-wrestler turned actor brethren in a performance that is finally worth noting. (Batista & The Rock) 

Despite his humorous outing, his daughtering counterpart steals the show entirely. Geraldine Viswanathan provides a charming and seemingly authentic performance as the crazy one of the group whose unafraid to speak her mind and to try anything as she states something along the lines of “you have to try something, so you know not to do it, that's why you try them.” Agreeable logic, but her upfront comedy is what she tries at best as she delivers some of, if not all, the best jokes.  

Leslie Mann comes in as the veteran comedic actress (“40-Year-Old Virgin” & “This is 40”) as she depicts the overbearing mother who confuses her sister-like bond with her daughter for something natural instead of forced. She is the original snooper of the three parents and the one who goes the farthest in stopping her daughter as she finds herself underneath the bed in which her daughter, Julie (Kathryn Newton), is about to get it on with her six-month long boyfriend. 

The youthful and experienced actress (“Supernatural,” “Lady Bird,” and “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri”) depicts a character that is attempting to have the perfect night with the boy she thinks she loves. A perfect night that is consistently met with conflict, but is perfectly summarized in one of the most subtle jokes of the film when her friends ask “how was it?” and she replies “painful, awkward, and kind of fast, but perfect.” It’s a special night that is almost ruined by her what would Vin Diesel believing mother that Leslie Mann depicts excellently, but I feel that no one had any doubts about that result when she was cast, and Kathryn Newton isn’t exactly the funniest, but she is effortlessly charming nonetheless. 

Kay Cannon doesn’t provide the unique visual heft that we saw from John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein’s direction in “Game Night” earlier this year, but she frames the movie just fine. While the screenplay from Kehoe brothers takes feels far more risky by turning this familiar story on its ear and introducing a multitude of subtext that could’ve brought down the film in more than one way, Cannon’s direction feels far more satisfactory which is disappointing, but not necessarily something worth denouncing. 

I will denounce the familiarity of the story; though it turns this cliche tale a little sideways, it keeps the most cliche of parts inside the screenplay. The emotional climax in which each parent confesses their problems to one another, the decisions that the daughters make, and the predictable twists and turns of the film can become far more of a nuisance than they should be. The characters and the added nuances enwrapped me, but I couldn’t help but consistently feel myself lean back from the screen as if each foreseeing plot development reeled me back from completely diving into the pool. 

There were never any moments that riddled me with laughter either. I laughed consistently, but it was more giggling than outbursts which are either due to that lack of ingenuity in the storytelling or the unfocused narrative that never decides on the type of comedy it’s trying to depict. It bounces back and forth from the vulgar comedies of “Harold & Kumar” to the coming-of-age style of “Superbad” to something more family oriented like “Meet the Parents.” It never chooses one or the other but rides the tidal wave of each of them. Which defeats the purpose of the substance filled moments almost as if the filmmakers are contradicting themselves. They introduce a relevant and weighty topic and then go back on themselves, possibly afraid that the comedy would become overloaded by the drama. As “Blockers” takes on the emotionally palpable moments of parents discussing the contradicting societal reactions of children losing their virginities in which sons are worshipped as if it's a right of passage, while women are slut-shamed for their sexual awakening, and at the same time, it delivers the immature comedy of watching the girls puke on each other.

“Blockers” is a funny film, but one that is not quite memorable. The most memorable aspect is the inclusion of the LGBT subtext, but the actual story relies far too much on the cliche of parents keeping their kids from the most intimate check off the bucket list of adulthood. It’s predictable but funny. I giggled all the way through, but the added female agency adds another dose of substance to the film that is quickly refuted by the comedy. Unsure of how to carry those message with comedy, "Blockers" struggles to get out of the proverbial box of satisfactory filmmaking. I continued to feel myself leaning into the screen, but was given the cold shoulder on each attempt. I walked out of the theatre realizing that it’s hard to love a film that is seemingly unsure of who it wants to be, as “Blockers” still needs to discover itself before I can.