3 stars (out of 4)
It’s Prom Night. This only means one thing, and I’m not talking about dancing to “Uptown Funk.” Blockers, like many hormonal teens on this seminal evening, has sex on the brain. Three high school girls want to have it. Their parents are desperate to put a stop to it. Sex leads to coming-of-age awakenings, a few heart-to-hearts between adult and child, and it’s the reason John Cena chugs beer via his butt hole. The bottom line is that sex is a complicated issue, darn it, and Blockers’ whiplash-like uncertainty in tone proves it. At least it has well-meaning fun along the way.
Parents Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) watch their daughters meet outside on the first day of elementary school. No longer strangers, Hunter suggests they all go out for a beer. Mitchell cries. The bicep-bulging Cena will get a lot of mileage out of breaking into tears in this movie. Barinholtz will do the same as a n’er do well wise-ass. Mann can play a funny, loving, overprotective mom in her beauty sleep.
Cut to a decade later. The parents have drifted apart — but those little girls, now Chicago-area high-school seniors on the cusp of graduation, have remained the tightest of besties. Julie (Kathryn Newton) is the blond-haired preppy princess whose bedroom is full of Universal Studios movie posters such as Pitch Perfect. She longs to go to UCLA, much to her mom’s great dismay. Mitchell’s girl, Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), has an adventurous spirit and a remarkable tolerance for drugs and alcohol. Hunter’s daughter, Sam (Gideon Adlon), is an introverted nerd who, naturally, wears glasses.
One day, Julie announces that she’s decided to have sex with her long-term boyfriend on prom night. Kayla wants in on the shared experience. Sam, clearly uncomfortable with the conversation but, like any teen, prone to peer pressure, decides she’ll do the same with her date. #Sexpact2018 is on! After the trio heads out in the stretch limo for a night of raucous good times, the parents are left to stir in the house. What’s that beeping sound emanating from Julie’s bedroom? Oops, she accidentally left the group chat open on her laptop. In a clever sequence, the parents’ decipher the Emojis and learn about the secret quest. With a big hell to the no, they immediately rush out to stop the girls from doing something they’ll surely, surely regret.
Right? Blockers has received early acclaim because the film, directed by Kay Cannon (who wrote Pitch Perfect), neon-highlights the fact that these teens are no pathetic damsels in distress. Julie didn’t pluck a shmo from band camp; she’s in a serious relationship. They treat each other with respect. Kayla is in full control of her situation, even when high on drugs. And Sam is a sensitive soul that deep down knows she’s more attracted to the same sex. Yay them! Now get off the screen. Don’t buy into the hype that this is a clever, gender-bending spin on a raunchy coming-of-age comedy. Though Julie and Kayla speak and behave like their male counterparts, I’m not convinced they’re ace leading ladies. Sample line: Julie rolls her eyes and says early on, “I’d rather eat 20 penises than a Mounds.” That’s not funny no matter which sex is spewing it. An obvious group vomit scene in the limo flails as well. I don’t blame the actresses. Two males wrote the screenplay.
The sobering fact is that only the adults score. Mann, Cena and Barinholtz behave like appropriately out-of-touch fogies that care deeply for their kids and still manage to milk laughs. Though the Cena butt-chugging is the piece de resistance, plenty of other wild shenanigans delight as well — including a car chase and a disastrous home invasion in a mission to track down after-party information. These set pieces are more effective than the generational bonding moments, which consist of conversations that are both inauthentic and tone deaf. Sam’s coming out is treated like a harmless after-thought. (Compare this with the graceful sensitivity in the recent, criminally underseen Love, Simon). And when Kayla, in a rare non-bratty moment, asks her dad why sex is such a big deal anyway, he replies with an exasperated “I don’t know.” He just chugged a beer through his ass in a frantic bid see his daughter at a party to stop her from going all the way and he doesn’t know?!
FWIW, the millennial audience in my Times Square screening were in hysterics throughout the movie, so what does a Gen X-er know anyway. Blockers isn’t as hilarious as it thinks it is, but its heart is indeed in the right place. And I’d be more than willing to see Mann, Cena and Barinholtz stalk their daughters while they’re away at college. Flockers!
Blockers opens in theaters on Friday, April 6.
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