BLOCKERS Review: More Sex Positive Than Comedy Positive

A study in wishing to like a movie more than it deserves.

Blockers is a film that I really wish was better than it ended up being. Pitch Perfect scribe Kay Cannon's feature directorial debut has its heart in the right place, offering up a sex comedy that confronts all-too-typical notions of parental control over their daughters' burgeoning maturity that doesn't treat the teenage characters as naïve or vulnerable. This is the sort of film that should have me singing its progressive praises, because it takes the time from goofing around to seriously examine the misogynistic assumptions driving the main characters' goals without losing the breezy momentum a film like this needs. And yet, I can't help walking away from Blockers feeling a little cold.

The film opens on Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), and Sam (Gideon Adlon) establishing their friendship and deciding that their prom night is going to be something special. Julie announces that she's going to finally lose her virginity to her boyfriend of six months, and in a rush of excitement Kayla decides that she too wants to lose her virginity that night, only her date is more casual acquaintance than boyfriend. Sam, hesitant at first but not consciously peer pressured, decides that she too wants to try to lose her virginity to her prom date, except that she harbors a secret crush on another girl with no interest in her male date at all. However, when Julie's clingy mom Lisa (Leslie Mann), Kayla's overprotective dad Mitchell (John Cena), and Sam's largely absent but attention-needy father Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) discover the so-called #SexPact2018, they resolve to hunt down their daughters to put a stop to the proposed sexual shenanigans.

What makes Blockers novel is that it very firmly plants its flag in the idea that the parents are the ones being ridiculous. You do get the sort of drug and alcohol shenanigans one would expect from the teenage side of an R-rated comedy, but that's portrayed as a largely natural part of growing up and experimentation. The parents, on the other hand, desperately want to hold on to the notion of their daughters as children they can control, with virginity being that universally understood yet arbitrarily drawn line where they lose that control. Lisa is a single mom who devoted her life to a daughter who now naturally wants to leave the nest, while Mitchell can't seem to get over his paternal protective instinct. Hunter, surprisingly enough, is probably the most complex of the trio, which makes it unfortunate that his depths are short-changed in favor of a joke about how Lisa and Mitchell don't really care. The three of them convey a wide range of parental codependence, and while they are sympathetic, their journeys ultimately show them to be in the wrong, necessarily letting their daughters enter adulthood through whatever clumsy steps they may need to take.

So why doesn't Blockers really work then? Well, it's just not that funny, or at least not as funny as it thinks it is. This is one of those comedies that somehow has five credited writers, yet most of the jokes feel like off-the-cuff improvisation without much direction aside from "stand in front of the cameras and be funny." The actors are all quite charismatic – if this isn't further proof that John Cena is one of the most naturally charming rising stars working today, I don't know what is – but so often their jokes, quips, and barbs feel dulled by a lack of punch and directorial punctuation. Often scenes will devolve into characters yelling over each other and awkwardly grappling (or in John Cena's case, just being a mountain of muscle), but these don't often raise more than chuckles of mild amusement. There are exceptions, as a scene where Cena must chug beer through his butt is absurdly delightful, and a cameo from Gary Cole plays like gangbusters. But overall, the attempts at comedy feel a bit stale, making the film more amusing than hilarious.

I don't dislike Blockers, and I suspect that some audiences are going to be more entertained by the antics displayed than I was. It is certainly refreshing to see a sex comedy that portrays feminine sexuality in a positive light and holds a mirror up to its audience's ingrained notions of virginal purity, but it would be nice if the comedy part of that equation were able to keep up with the sex.