From Key Cannon, the writer of the “Pitch Perfect” series and Netflix’s immediately axed show “Girlboss,” comes “Blockers,” her directorial debut about a trio of parents on a mission to stop their daughters from having sex on prom night. It’s also about the girls oblivious to their parents’ effort to thwart their sexual agency, and the hijinks that ensue.
They say the best movies arrive from the simplest concepts, the ones whose humanist narratives tap into struggles both universal and specific. “Blockers” certainly isn’t concerned with anything too unfamiliar; it sources its comedic potential from the uniquely female chapter in coming-of-age where the awkwardness of sexual discovery is compounded by parental surveillance. It’s a story whose male equivalent has been done many a times over, minus the parental involvement. So, in a way, I’m glad this movie exists. If nothing else, maybe it will trigger something in Hollywood filmmaking that gravitates toward experiences more specific to women (it helps that this film is ethnically and sexually diverse). But the movie, by its own merit, is a tremendous misstep that’s neither funny nor insightful — two things this coming-of-age comedy so desperately wants you think it is.
Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) are childhood friends on the cusp of high school graduation. Prom is approaching, and Julie declares that she is going to lose her virginity to her boyfriend, Austin (Graham Phillips). Hesitant for, like, 10 seconds, Kayla decides that she, too, is ready for her first time. Unlike Julie, who fantasizes about her first time being special, romantic and with someone she loves, Kayla just wants to get it on. Sam is reluctant, though, and while she’s going to prom with the fedora-clad Chad (Jimmy Bellinger), her eyes are dead set on her true crush, Angelica (Ramona Young). Throughout the film, Sam grapples with the question of whether or not her feelings for Angelica and, consequently, her sexuality are authentic or simply one of the many pangs of teenage angst. It’s certainly a novelty in the genre to display such empathy for a questioning character without them being the punchline of severely homophobic jokes, and one of the few things “Blockers” gets right.
The trio eventually officiate their sex pact, manically texting each other in a group chat that Julie’s mom, Lisa (Leslie Mann), discovers by way of her open laptop. Kayla’s father, Mitchell (John Cena), and Sam’s father, Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) join in on Lisa’s spying. Against Hunter’s belief that their kids have a right to enjoy the best night of their lives without the interference of their overprotective and, in his case, absentee parents, the parents set off to the prom venue to stop them from acting on their pact.
It’s hard to determine who the real parent-child protagonist couple is, since each of the five main characters have their own arcs that Cannon sets up from the beginning, paying off in the film’s final hotel act. That’s not necessarily a problem in terms of protagonist identification, and it helps that the narratives are, if not enjoyable for a large duration of the time we’re with them, at least coherent and progressive. “Blockers,” for the most part, succeeds at telling a story about sexuality as explored by three different girls. Ultimately it’s less important that they have sex but more so that they display some form of sexual agency and demonstrate to their parents that they are not their property to be be controlled as they see fit. If you didn’t understand this concept, it will hit you in the head with it so hard you may actually be fooled into taking its cornball melodramatic “touching” moments as sincere emotional payoffs. Speaking to universal truths about human agency and the right to both privacy and sexual exploration may give this film a bronze star of ideological agreeableness, but it doesn’t mean anything if the film is incompetently made.
Critiquing a comedy as unfunny, or a horror for a lack of scares and a romance for lack of audience attachment to a pair of on-screen lovers is purely subjective; what’s funny, scary or endearing to one person doesn’t necessarily register the same way for another. “Blockers” is, on the whole, a painfully embarrassing uncomedic flop of a comedy whose few moments of genuine humor are few, far between, and still only light in the laughs department. Hannibal Buress shows up for maybe five minutes as Sam’s stepfather and shares a darkly humorous story with her to illustrate how “the bedrock of all social relationships is shared experiences.” Let’s see, there’s a reference to “American Beauty” as a romantic comedy that drew one of those slight nasal huffs (didn’t do much for the audience though, understandably). Both Sam and Kayla’s dates are competently performed, each a cringe-inducing young man in their own different ways. And there’s a scene at the end where CGI tears pour down Mann’s face as she smiles and pretends nothing is wrong.
There’s little moments peppered in throughout that are … almost funny, but too stupid, in an indefensible way. It’s honestly embarrassing, sitting through 40 minutes of a film where the most an audience will laugh is for two scenes, one involving Cena’s character buttchugging a 40 oz. and the consequences that ensue, another involving a 7-person vomit domino effect in a limo. If you’re looking for legitimate jokes with setups and payoffs, “Blockers” has a pocketful of them, but they’re boringly juvenile in a way that not even I can defend.
Verdict: “Blockers” is intolerable, unfunny and horrendously pandering. All I can hope for is that its inclusivity and agreeable messages are a precursors to more diverse casts and stories in Hollywood.