Featured image 2 for BLOCKERS

Trailers are tricky business. You don’t want to give away too much or too little. You want to represent the film accurately, but you want to make it optimally appealing to the masses. Sometimes you get it very right. The BLACK PANTHER teaser and full trailers are fine examples of this. Other times, you shipwreck the whole thing. The BLOCKERS trailer is more like that.

The jokes in the trailer largely fell flat. The plot seemed like a story of the worst kind of parents controlling their daughters’ sex lives — funny at best, and horribly moralizing at worst. The whole affair just felt disjointed, sweaty, and possibly made up of some pretty backwards, unctuous values.

However, early buzz  seemed to promise something very different. So, which was true: the face the movie showed us or the face film festival goers found?

BLOCKERS: Posing for prom
Jimmy Bellinger, Gideon Adlon, Graham Phillips, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Miles Robbins showcase that hot, hot, hot gold curtain in BLOCKERS. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The Idea Behind BLOCKERS

Three young girls meet on the first day of elementary school and become instant friends. Their parents, in turn, become similarly linked. Flash forward 13 years and Sam (Gideon Adlon), Julie (Kathryn Newton), and Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) remain thick as thieves.

Their parents, however, have drifted a bit. Mitchell (John Cena)—Kayla’s dad—calls Lisa (Leslie Mann)—Julie’s mom—frequently and she never calls back. Both of them are actively avoiding Hunter (Ike Barniholtz)—Sam’s dad—after his bad behavior sunk his marriage to Brenda (June Diane Raphael).

With the arrival of prom night, though, the trio is forced to reconnect. It starts with the pre-party thrown by Lisa, but the fates really link them when they discover their daughters have a pact to lose their virginity after prom. Mitchell feels like he is failing his daughter by not shielding her from this step. Meanwhile, Lisa can’t stop thinking about losing Julie and her own first experience. Ironically, only Hunter seems to be realistic about the whole thing, but he is dragged along for the ride.

What follows is essentially a game of hide and seek where only one party knows they are playing. The teens and their dates blissfully bounce from prom to afterparty to other afterparty. Meanwhile, their parents pursue them with increasing desperation. Accidental voyeurism, nudity, vomiting, single vehicle accidents, and more ensue.

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The Writing

The script, penned by Brian and Jim Kehoe, does a number of things well. For one, BLOCKERS is just over 90 minutes with six leads, but the script doesn’t short-shrift any of them. It also makes great use of supporting characters. Nearly everyone we meet gets a good line off or two. Often, you’ll want more of them, a sign of good script work.

What I especially like about the script is the ways in which it shows that adults can be damaged by late adolescence and early adulthood twice over — first their own, and then their children’s. Moreover, it offers plenty of evidence that the second may actually be more damaging as their kids seem to be predominantly enjoying the process.

The movie also nicely navigates the problem of moral scolding. It makes it clear that the parents are overreacting, both by their actions and by people’s reactions to them. Also, it links parental behavior to specific issues of their own. The message is clear: sex isn’t nothing, but it’s the parents, not the kids, who are acting irrationally about it. Finally, it shows that parents often miss the truly problematic in front of them. They witness all manner of substance use without blinking, but god forbid any of their “little girls” have sex.

The script can be a little scattered at times. This often adds an anarchic sense of energy, but the movie sometimes can feel like it is moving simply to move. As a result, BLOCKERS often feels displaced from time. You have no idea if the evening began an hour earlier or this is day 3 of some spectacular prom bender.

BLOCKERS: We're just here to party
Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, and John Cena are stunned to find they can’t pass for 18 anymore in BLOCKERS. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Casting The Daughters of BLOCKERS

A thing that Viswanathan, Newton, and Adlon do extremely well is make their characters feel lived in. Viswanathan in particular has a tough road to hoe: a biracial tomboy hornball who wants to ingest every substance she can get her hands on. Yet her Kayla also feels the most real onscreen. Her contradictions don’t unravel the character; instead, they make her come to delightfully to life.

Early on, it seems Adlon might fade into the background of the film. However, as the plot progresses, it becomes clear that is intentional. Adlon, probably since acknowledging her sexuality to herself, has been doing her best not to stick out. She doesn’t want her life to change—or at least thinks she doesn’t—so she is doing all in her power to keep things on an even keel. Her initial vagueness is no accident. It is the survival technique of someone terrified that being herself will destroy everything else she cares for.

Ironically, the most difficult role to breathe life into proves to be the most, on the surface, obvious. Newton is the good child with an enmeshed relationship with her single mom. She believes in the possibility of a perfect first time and has worked out exactly how it will go. We have seen it before and therefore Newton has a harder time sticking out in comparison to her co-stars. The way she works around the edges, however, giving Julie an air of frustration and parentification, sneaks up on you. When she finally boils over, it feels earned. It is an inevitable result of having a mom who takes attempts at independence as invitations to hold tighter.

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Casting the Parents of BLOCKERS

It is so great to see Leslie Mann get to be just as over the top and involved in hijinks as her male co-stars.  I haven’t seen every comedy she’s been in, but I have seen a lot of them. This definitely feels like the first time she’s been able to be fun and wild since the club scene in KNOCKED UP.

John Cena continues to prove that he can be funny and charismatic onscreen. His Mitchell is a sweet, loving, and a bit clueless in a way that feels authentic. Even his very bad acting crying works as it almost plays as the reverse. Rather than a man trying to force himself to cry badly onscreen, it comes across as a father badly attempting to cover up the waterworks. Impressively, he even manages to make his incongruously muscular body not distracting. There is almost no reason for a suburban dad to look like him but besides a couple of “lamp shading” jokes, his physique blends in.

The MVP, for my money, is Barinholtz who has to make Hunter seem like a day-to-day idiot, the only logical one of the trio, and a very sad man overall. He has to use a big speech to hit the last beat but it works (except for his crying). It turns out Cena is not the worst in the cast at bad crying.

BLOCKERS: Popping up in the limo
Adlon, Newton, and Viswanathan enjoy the cool clean outside air in BLOCKERS (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Casting the Rest of the BLOCKERS Call Sheet

Raphael and Hannibal Burress as her new husband Frank are tremendous. Burress is so wonderfully genial while still managing to observe that his wife’s longest friendship is with a racist co-worker. Raphael plays wonderfully “off,” giving Brenda a sharpness and a bizarre monologue about the nature of friendship.

Gary Cole and Gina Gershon as the very amorous and open parents of Julie’s prom date Austin are so matter-of-fact that they sell their one-joke roles. As the only parents not specifically connected to the main three girls, they are both normal counterbalances and just weird enough for you to understand why our three parents wouldn’t listen to them.

Marcie (Sarayu Blue) is the sole truly normal parent in the bunch. The way she dresses down her husband Mitchell and his cohorts is a two-minute burst of feminism that is smart, just harsh enough, and never feels like they just stuck lecture notes in her mouth. She’s a gracious performer too, setting the stage during her big moment to let Lisa, Hunter, and Mitchell as she demonstrates just how lousy they are being. I wish the script could’ve found a way for her to be part of the mix a bit longer.

Sadly the trio of dates, Austin (Graham Phillips), Connor (Miles Robbins), and Chad (Jimmy Bellinger) don’t fare so well. Someday someone will make a teen sex comedy where the boys and the girls are similarly well-drawn, but that day is not today.

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Filming

Kay Cannon, best known as the writer of the three PITCH PERFECT films, does well behind the camera. She has a good feel for comedic set pieces and how to stage them to let them breathe without letting them go stale. Like the script, the direction can feel a bit hectic at times. Also like the script, this hecticness is sometimes for the betterment of the feel of the film.

The two big things I would ding Cannon for are matters of personal preference. I’m not a big gross-out comedy fan, so the vomit scene is not a fave of mine. I found myself wondering it was like the diarrhea scene in BRIDESMAIDS, a thing added to make it funny for the dudes too. That said, Cannon films it with a sense of undeniably chaotic energy.

I also loathe the hotel party scene cliché. My high school was primarily populated with predominantly middle class peers. In college, my classmates came mostly from upper middle class to RICH families. None of us had stories of hotel-wide, hedonistic fests post-prom that make might Caligula envious. BLOCKERS’ first post-prom party, a sprawling lake house event, also has the air of untruth to it, but it bothered me less.

Again, Cannon navigates the set piece well, I just wish she had chosen something a little more honest and down-to-earth for the movie’s climax.

BLOCKERS: Just eating a thong.
Cena enjoys an unusual snack in a scene from BLOCKERS. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The Costuming of the Parents

On the parent front, almost everything you need to know about Mitchell, Hunter, and Lisa is found in their prom night outfits. Mitchell is so very dad in a button-down tucked into cargo shorts. He also still straps his phone to his belt despite having those giant pockets. The result makes it clear that Mitchell has defined himself as a dad and he is bad at accepting and dealing with change.

Lisa, meanwhile, rocks a spring floral dress and low-top sneakers, not unlike some of the outfits we see her daughter in. Leslie Mann can wear those clothes no problem and it does not feel like a woman desperate for her youth. Instead, it is clear she is trying to match her daughter on every plane. They run together, they eat breakfast together, they are “so close.” Of course they share fashion styles.

Hunter, meanwhile, is dressed in a kinda bad suit, no tie. It makes it clear he is trying to be both serious and, yet, cool. Also, if you recall his initial outfit, a kind of nondescript schlub ensemble, it shows you this is a conscious thing. Hunter is trying to be an adult and this is how he thinks adults dress.

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The Costuming of the Daughters

Julie, as befits her role, dresses the most conventionally. Everything she wears feels perfectly teen girl appropriate AND mom approved.

For Kayla, who attributes her personality to her dad, this is her attempt at trying to find a life outside that shadow. Having sex is part of that but so is the dress, which draws on Indian dress design style as an indication of her connection to her mom. Her hair also is obviously part of an effort to make herself different than her typical look. Moreover, even after the vomit incident forces most of them to change, Kayla maintains her look from start to finish. She is, to use a cliché I’m sure she and her dad use, in it to win it.

Sam, meanwhile, starts dressed to conceal. Her hair is almost covering her face, she seems to be hiding behind her glasses, and her dress is by far the most conservative. As she slowly moves towards honesty about herself, however, she begins to shed. Her hair gets pulled out of her face, her glasses go away for a bit and, when she does wear them, she seems somehow more present in them. Ultimately, she trades that dress for a more casual and comfortable outfit.

It is a surprising amount of thought for a teen sex comedy (or at least half of one) and I really noticed and appreciated it.

Blockers: Ride the floatie
Adlon and Bellinger enjoy a floatie poolside in a scene from BLOCKERS (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Striking the Set

This was a movie that I intended to avoid like hot lava. I am glad early reviews persuaded me otherwise.

BLOCKERS is deft, quick witted, and funny. There are good to great performances from stem to stern. This is one to see in theatres with a big audience and let yourself get swept up in the energy.

Despite all initial indications to the contrary, BLOCKERS is worth a night out.

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