SXSW Review: Blockers


Prom! That magical experience of near mythical importance for high school students. You’ll dance. You’ll drink. And then, you’ll definitely lose your virginity, because only losers haven’t after prom has come and gone. The tradition begun with 1999’s American Pie continues nearly 20 years later in Blockers, the cock in the title being implied, or represented in marketing materials with the silhouette of a large chicken. Only, the game has changed slightly since audiences learned of the forbidden love between man and pastry. Instead of 4 teenage boys making a pact to lose their virginity, it’s 3 teenage girls, oh and we have a woman directing the major studio release of an R-rated comedy.

As director Kay Cannon said onstage at SXSW 2018, presenting the movie’s world premiere, this movie might not have been possible 5 years ago. It’s the right time for the right comedy, one with a female perspective, both from the helmer’s point of view, and from a protagonist one. “I’m a woman. And I directed something. It’s R-rated and studio released!” Cannon said, clearly elated in the reception to her directorial debut. She should be elated, Blockers is funny. Very funny, and despite it being familiar ground, it’s fresh.

Blockers - Official Trailer (HD)

Director: Kay Cannon
Rated: R
Release Date: April 6, 2018

Stars Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz excel as parents bent to stop their daughters from fulfilling a sex pact made before prom. They’ll go to any length (or girth), including not only the impossible, but improbable, to stop their daughters (Gideon Adlon, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan) from losing their innocence. 

The film doesn’t cling to the outdated ideal that a daughter’s sexuality is something that must be protected by her parents, particularly their fathers. While this still drives the narrative, there’s an awareness that women, even teenaged ones, are in control of their bodies and their sexual experiences. Blockers is engaged in this discourse, with not only self-awareness, but wit. Don’t expect every progression to go as it might have a decade ago.

Barinholtz’s Hunter is the bad dad who’s OK with his daughter having the best possible prom night she can, as he believes his facilitating her good time might get him back in her good graces, his early efforts to sabotage Mann and Cena’s Lisa and Mitchell from success are wonderful. Mann brings her usual effortless comedic repertoire in fine form, while Cena proves a breadth of acting chops that is usually reserved for former professional wrestlers of the variety first name The, last name Rock. His on cue crying might not be the most dramatic turn you’ll find onscreen, but his ability to capture nuanced reactions is great.

The Gen 2 talent here, portrayed by the daughters and their would-be suitors is top notch, as Viswanathan delivers a line about her man going down on “her pussy” with all the alacrity of the finest Stifler. 

The writing is fresh, a surprise really, as you’d think there are only so many hypothetical situations that could arise on a prom night. Wrong, it turns out. Look for several highly colorful new varieties of shenanigans to rear their heads. Here, after the deserved kudos for female empowerment, both in directorial capacity and narrative point of view, I was disappointed to learn that the writers were the from the same pool of men behind so many of these typically male-driven teenage sex comedies. In fact, John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg wrote the last installment of American Pie, and also created and wrote the Harold & Kumar franchise. Then there are the Kehoe brothers who penned the original script, and Cannon’s husband, Eben Russell. 

There’s no suggestion that women can’t write comedy or that they’r not funny. Hardly. I’m only noting my slight disappointment to not see any credited female writers, and further disappointment that Cannon didn’t write this as well (she has strong writing credits to her name, including the wonderful Pitch Perfect series, and 30 Rock). Describing how the film was created and creative decisions made on how to portray the subject of young women losing their virginity on screen, she pointed to a collaborative effort between herself, producers, cast, and writers with no joke or angle left unexplored (this is quite literally true of no angle).

I had to ask myself if my opinion of the film had been influenced by viewing it at its world premiere, with an audience that was clearly very eager to enjoy the film, one which possibly laughed too easily and too frequently. Indeed, they laughed at nearly everything with uproarious gusto; they ate it up. When that many people are laughing that enthusiastically, it’s easy to get carried away. But upon further reflection, I’m convinced the film holds up under less willing review.

Just note, I’m tempering my own experience, and thus your expectations and slightly lowering my score to address this reality. But when Cannon screamed at the audience, prior to the film rolling, “Don’t butt-chug tonight! I’m a mom. If I see you butt chug, I’ll cock block you so fast, I’ll pull that tube right out of your ass,” thus alluding to one of the more surprising scenes in the film, it didn’t ruin anything or diminish my own enjoyment. If anything, it highlighted the humor and love that had been put into Blockers, much like the tube that gets put into John Cena’s ass. It’s fresh, it’s cringe-inducing and its worth a viewing as great mainstream comedies are sort of a rarity these days.