Friday, April 13, 2018

Movie Review: Blockers

Blockers *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Kay Cannon.
Written by: Brian Kehoe & Jim Kehoe.
Starring: Leslie Mann (Lisa), Ike Barinholtz (Hunter), John Cena (Mitchell), Kathryn Newton (Julie), Gideon Adlon (Sam), Geraldine Viswanathan (Kayla), Graham Phillips (Austin), Miles Robbins (Connor), Jimmy Bellinger (Chad), June Diane Raphael (Brenda), Hannibal Buress (Frank), Sarayu Blue (Marcie), Gary Cole (Austin’s Dad), Gina Gershon (Austin’s Dad), Colton Dunn (Rudy), Ramona Young (Angelica), Jake Picking (Kyler), T.C. Carter (Jayden), Andrew Lopez (Jake Donahue).
The comedy Blockers tries to do too much in its 100 minute runtime – being a teenage comedy, a film about parents letting go, a positive affirmation of sex, and a gross out film all at the same time. It doesn’t always work – it doesn’t always fit together – but for the most part, it’s held together by a game cast, who pretty much go for broke. As far as these types of mainstreams comedies go – it’s not quite what Game Night was last month (which was the best one I’d seen in a few years), but it’s about as good as it can be. It’s the type of movie you could end up watching again and again when it shows up on cable, and your channel surfing.
The story is pretty simple – the teenage girls, friends since kindergarten, are excited for their prom night. Julie (Kathryn Newton) decides that tonight is the night she is going to lose her virginity to Austin, her boyfriend – the two of them are sickeningly cute together. Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan – who steals almost every scene she’s in), decides, what the hell, she’s in too – and will lose her virginity to her date Connor, so Sam (Gideon Adlon) decides she will as well to Chad – even though she’s pretty sure she’s a lesbian, and would rather be with Angelica (Ramona Young). Through a complicated series of events, their parents find out about #Sexpact 2018 and are determined to stop them from making what they assume will be a mistake. At least that’s what Lisa (Leslie Mann), Julie’s mother thinks – she’s a single mother, who had Julie young, and worries about her making similar mistakes as well as the fact she may go off to UCLA, an unthinkable long way from Chicago. Mitchell (John Cena) is also determined to stop Kayla – he cannot stop thinking about Connor’s stupid man bun and supposed smirk. Mitchell, of course, looks like John Cena, but is really a big old softie (basically the human version of Ferdinand that Cena just voiced). Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), Sam’s dad doesn’t actually want to stop his daughter – he wants to stop his fellow parents from ruining the kids night.
The film knows full well that Lisa and Mitchell are wrong – that their way of thinking is backwards and sexist, applying different standards to boys and girls the way we still do. Mitchell’s wife calls them out for it early in the film, and the way sex is presented in the film is pretty much the idealized, perfect version of teenage sex. There isn’t the slightest hint of the boys pressuring the girls (they all say, more than once “We don’t have to”, or something along those lines). All of that is refreshing to see in this type of comedy, even if at times it gets laid on a little thick – it’s still preferable to the types of high school comedies from a while ago which would laugh at some pretty heinous things (Molly Ringwald’s re-evaluation of the John Hughes films she was in published in The New Yorker is a must read in this regard).
But if Blockers was only about that kind of portrait of teenage sex, it would be a well-intentioned bore. Thankfully it is. The movie is hilarious, giving us two different groups of three of people who are well matched, and who directed Kay Cannon lets go wild. Mann is more often than not underused in films – supporting characters, who get a good monologue or moment or two, and that’s about it. Here, she carries the emotional weight of the movie – because even if we know she’s wrong, the feelings underpinning her actions are real. She doesn’t overplay that – but it makes some of the over-the-top moments feel more earned. Cena is good at playing the big old softie – and while he probably doesn’t really show us anything new here, it’s an actor that still works. Barinholtz is good at playing the guy who is outwardly cocky, but inside is an insecure mess. As a trio, they work so well together that you fear that the newcomers will be blown off the screen – but the trio of young women more than hold their own. They work well together – even as they are asked to go back and forth from scenes where they’re vomiting all over a car, to more emotional scenes.
I do think that Blockers would have been a better overall film had it found a way to settle on a tone. This is a film that has moments that go over-the-top with comedy – naked Marco Polo games, chugging a beer through your butt, etc.  – and other moments when parents and their children are having rather heartfelt talks with each other. The later works better than the former, even if all of it works somewhat. Blockers doesn’t quite reach that upper echelon of the modern studio comedy – once again, I’ll point out Game Night, because I loved Game Night – but for what it is, it works well. Cannon – who has already proven herself to be a fine writer, proves now she can direct as well. Blockers isn’t great, but you may well have a great time watching it.

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