The R-rated teen comedy hasn’t suddenly made a comeback, it’s been around for decades, but this might be the first teen sex comedy where the adults get the most action. Blockers has been eyed as potentially problematic since the day it was first announced, then titled The Pact. Troublesome because having guys write a teen comedy about a sex pact between three high school girls sounds like the starting point for a Dateline special, especially in today’s enlightened environment. But Blockers, despite its raunch and butt-chugging hijinks, manages to be progressive in its politics, smart in its gender-swapping humor, and hilarious for introducing John Cena as the most uncool dad since Eugene Levy in American Pie.
As a longtime and forever wrestling fan, watching the former Doctor of Thugonomics portray a doting helicopter dad is surreal. I kept waiting for him to rip off the collared shirt and khakis, reveal a basketball jersey and jorts, and bust out a “You can’t see me”! Cena makes a case for starring in more Apatow-style (Apatow has nothing to do with this, but Seth Rogen does as producer) comedies as Mitch, a meathead with a sensitive soul, at least when it comes to his daughter Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan). Mitch and his wife (Sarayu Blue) have raised Kayla to be tough and independent, also a sports freak her like her father. Then there’s flaky single mom Lisa (Leslie Mann) who dreads the empty nest left behind by her daughter Julie (Kathryn Newton) when she goes away to college. Finally, there’s negligent dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), who is desperate to get back into the life of his daughter Sam (Gideon Adlon).
It’s prom night, and guys, we know what that means, don’t we fellas? In any teen sex comedy, prom night is when all of the dudes make some kind of vow to get laid. Well, that’s what the daughters do here, pledging to all lose their virginities on the same night. When their emoji-fueled texts are found and deciphered (Mitch’s desperate guesswork is a riot), the three parental units decide to be cockblockers and prevent their daughters from making a life-ruining choice.
Blockers is directed by Kay Cannon, making her directorial debut after writing all of the Pitch Perfect movies. How much input she had on the screenplay here is unclear, but I feel like if there was any it was heavily tilted towards the teens, not the parents. Surprisingly, the film does a good job of portraying them as young women capable of making their own choices, and not damsels in need of rescue. Kayla is strong and competitive like her father, even when she’s baked off her date’s assortment of edible treats. Julie is in a semi-serious, committed relationship with her prom date, and more than of an age to make the decision to have sex. Meanwhile, Sam is trying to figure out where her attractions truly are; with the boy she brought to prom, or the hot girl wearing the nerdy cape? The actual prom night escapades are inclusive, insightful, and not all that funny. Seriously, a group vomit scene is about as wild as it gets, although there’s a terrific reference to American Beauty and a bed covered in rose petals.
The best stuff is saved for the parents, who are twice as old and twice as immature as their kids. I’m convinced the small army of five male writers (!!!) were left undisturbed to dream up one immature scenario after another with which to embarrass Cena. To his credit, the WWE poster boy lets his freak flag fly, especially in a scene where he’s forced to chug beer through his butthole (“I can’t open up!”), a riotous highlight that people have been talking about since the film’s debut at SXSW. There’s all sorts of parental bonding going on as they endure car accidents, kinky sex games with Gina Gershon and Gary Cole, the occasional home invasion, and multiple occasions where they try not to look like NARCs raiding a high school party.
“Untuck your shirt. You look like a youth minister”, Lisa cautions Mitch, who counters that his plaid shirt wasn’t made to be untucked. Cena’s earnest dorkiness is just about perfect if slightly overused, while Mann and Barinholtz are natural cornballs. It’s impossible to overlook how much more enjoyable Blockers is when it gets away from the younger actors. Not their fault as they are all pretty good, but clearly the adults had more to work with.
Even Superbad, what I consider the undisputed champion of the genre, had to give in to its sweet and sentimental side. Blockers does, too, with varying degrees of success. While the handling of Sam’s homosexuality, and subsequent reveal to her father, is handled with unexpected care and honesty, other resolutions don’t fare so well. Mitch’s dim-witted “I don’t know” when asked by his daughter why sex is so important isn’t a great moment, especially since he’s just spent an entire night of Hell (with an anus full of lager) to stop her from having it. But then I guess that is kind of the point. Parents don’t have all of the answers, and in some cases they don’t even know what the questions are. They may be grown ups but growing wiser doesn’t always come with age.