Blockers Review [SXSW 2018]


You’ve all seen *that* Blockers TV spot where thick-thighed John Cena “butt chugs” against high schoolers, right? “I mean, looks dumb.” Hardly. Get ready to read about the proficient gender-swapped comedy that is Blockers – an infinitely more rewarding watch that doesn’t fit into a thirty-second ad.

While raunchy “parents gone wild” humor will surely tickle immature and crass tastes, Kay Cannon’s first of many directorial features is a uniquely female buddy-sex-comedy that’s infinitely richer as far as representational awakenings are concerned. For better and worse, the film’s trio of prom-night besties live a categorical night of debauchery more often reserved for male audiences (like, 99% of the time). It’s unfiltered, messy and vocally identifiable for females who’ve long watched comparable cinematic archetypes be used by machismo dude-bros as ditzy intercourse props or background love interests. No more.

As Bridesmaids and Rough Night once fought for, Blockers is another step in the right direction for female-created, female-led comedies with a hell of a lot more to say than the next retreaded boy’s night.

The scripted “mission” follows three parents as they try to void their daughters’ prom night sex pact (#SexPact2018). Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) translate cryptic emoji messages to decipher a text group agreement – then it’s off to stop Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) from their “life-ruining mistake.” How, you ask? By tailing the girls as they go from actual prom to parties to a final hotel overnight. All the while revealing intimate secrets and bumbling through thoughtless schemes that usually end with someone naked or abused.

At first, Blockers may appear to be any one of many Apatow-era comedies. We’re introduced to overzealous and yuck-worth characters with their own quirks – Dad-shorts Cena, fear-of-being-alone Mann, “cheater” Barinholtz – so don’t be thrown. They’re slightly likable and exaggerated – but that changes with the help of their offspring. Julie guides her mother through a heroically tear-filled bout of empty nest syndrome, Kayla reassures her father she’s been taught well, and Sam humanizes her man-child parent throughout the film’s deepest familial arc. It’s unexpected, but worth contrasting an onslaught of otherwise genital-forward gags.


Alone, the trio of budding little women explore multiple lifestyles told through perspectives on various personal levels. Julie chases her Prince Charming night of romance, Kayla seems fine diving into meaningless sex (with a hipster weed chef), and then there’s Sam – who dates fedora-boy Chad (Jimmy Bellinger) but truly has eyes for Elvish cosplayer Angelica (Ramona Young). A heartfelt queer storyline massaged into mainstream storytelling that’s NOT overplayed or lauded as “different?” Nurtured as a natural romance (with capes)? These three girls share penial commentaries, drunken limo rides and diverse friendship bonds soaked in sincerity (and vomit) – the problem is, I just wish there was *more* of this.

Blockers backpedals only because Cannon is so good at handling womanhood in a young adult microcosm. Leslie Mann might be the funniest working Hollywood actress, but her on-screen mama’s ignorance of eggplant double-meanings and backdoor entry advice runs dry without Newton by her side. Same for Cena’s seething hatred of man-buns and Barinholtz’s odd-man-out routine without their sweet little angels.

You’ll laugh at Mann’s ninja-like tumbling, Cena’s mistaken thong ownership and Barinholtz’s dynamite Fast And Furious references (“This is slow and unfurious!”) – but small pockets sell a reduction in laughs when the teen crew disappears for too long. Not to denounce more mature issues – fears of not being able to “protect” your kin, or losing them to life itself – that’s just how enjoyable Viswanathan, Newton and Adlon are.

Fortunately, Blockers proves that mainstream comedies are anything but dead. Memorable interactions range from dicks being described as “not for looking at” to blindfolded intercourse spice-ups complete with a famous character actor’s full-frontal dangler; an Almond Joy reference to testicles being squeezed like stress balls. I know that doesn’t sound very ambitious, but it’s about who’s delivering such lines and in what context (high schoolers the observational heft, parents the nudity and punishment). Cafeteria girls banter just like boys do – a la Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising – making opposite-gender observations while flipping off decency. Who says boys get all the fun one-liners?


Cannon’s no-bullshit stance against double-standards is not lost between exploding cars and anal intoxication. Mitchell’s wife Marcie (Sarayu Blue) chastises the no-sex squad for viewing a female’s “loss of innocence” differently than a man’s “sexual conquest” (why is it shameful for girls, but celebrated for men). Julie rails against her mother for insinuating she’s choosing UCLA over Chicago because of a boy and not her own merit. For a large portion of Blockers, three girls find themselves in the same scenario horny on-screen boys have for decades – and it spawns a ludacris rescue mission instead of high-fives. Quite the drastic flip, in and of itself a commentary on how sexual dynamics are so widely misunderstood between genders and identifications.

Blockers is an about-damn-time comedy that aims to embarrass subjects at the most influential juncture of their lives – but does much more. Kay Cannon’s directorial debut is anything but a rubber-fumbling, boy-crazy, sex-for-laughs surface romp. Somewhere at the crossroads of parental paranoia and childhood trailblazing is this balanced, at-times rallying watch that holds meaning for female audiences who’ve been craving such customized content – along with, you know, the awkwardness of adults injecting themselves into their child’s sex life. You’re going to laugh – a lot – and hopefully realize that comedy isn’t just a boy’s club. How’s *that* for your “it’s just a Cena butt-chug” comments?

Blockers Review [SXSW 2018]

Blockers sells itself as a parents-first warpath comedy, but the true treat here is watching a trio of young women navigate sex-comedy narratives that boys have dominated for far too long.