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Blockers

Posted April 12, 2018 By Curiosity Inc.

I’ve already said my piece about the many and varied coming-of-age stories produced over the past few years. I don’t even want to try and count all the times I’ve reviewed dramas and comedies that revolve around teenagers learning how to find themselves. But this may be the very first time I’ve ever seen such a movie told from the parents’ perspectives. It’s certainly not a bad idea.

Unfortunately, the film came to us from producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, alongside Jon Hurwitz of “Harold and Kumar” fame. Writers Brian and Jim Kehoe have made nothing else of any note. Also making her debut (more or less) is director Kay Cannon, who made her name by writing and producing for “30 Rock”, “New Girl”, two of the “Pitch Perfect” movies, and the ill-fated “Girlboss” show. While it was definitely a smart move bringing in a female director, this is otherwise a crew of filmmakers who were not the least bit qualified to make Blockers what it needed to be.

Leslie Mann plays Lisa, a single mother who’s obsessively terrified of being alone. John Cena plays Mitchell, an uber-macho alpha male who probably would have been more happy raising a son. Last but not least is Ike Barinholtz as Hunter, a divorced father and perpetual fuckup who desperately wants to reconnect with his daughter. The three of them first met roughly two decades ago, when their daughters started grade school together and became fast friends.

Flash forward to prom night. Julie, Kayla, and Sam (respectively played by Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon) are still best friends, and they all agree to lose their virginities before prom night is through. Lisa overhears about the pact when she goes snooping on her daughter’s laptop, and so our three overbearing parents go out to stop their kids from having premarital sex.

But let’s back up a little bit. Did you read the part about where our adult characters first hear about the sex pact because they were snooping through Julie’s laptop? Because that totally happened. In case it wasn’t clear enough that our three main characters are paranoid, overbearing, self-centered assholes with no regard for the autonomy of the young adults that their daughters have grown into. That is the entire point of this movie, and the one joke of this one-joke movie.

Now let’s back up a bit further. All three of the primary teenagers in this story are girls. Is there even the slightest possibility that these parents are only freaking out because of the possibility that their girls are having sex? Would any of them be nearly as upset if it was their son getting laid on prom night? From pretty much the very first frame, I was begging and pleading for the filmmakers to bring up that double standard.

And they did. They brought it up HARD. There’s a whole scene in which each of our three main parents gets ripped a new asshole over their sexist ignorance, and it is glorious. We only get about two or three scenes in which the main parents get well and truly called out on their self-righteous bullshit, and every single second of it is amazing. When this movie speaks from the heart and genuinely tries to send a sincere message, it’s powerful stuff.

It’s too bad we had to plow through so much shit to get to those scenes, though.

See, we’re talking about modern teenagers here. High school seniors who’ve never known a single day before Columbine, 9/11, the AIDS epidemic, or An Inconvenient Truth. Kids who came of age through the Great Recession and never knew a single day when their nation wasn’t at war. Kids who grew up in the Internet Era, connecting with people of all races, creeds, and sexualities all over the world. Teenagers and young adults today are so much smarter, tougher, and more compassionate than any of their forebears were at that age.

And the movie would have been so much better if the filmmakers had directly addressed that. They brush right up against the topic, but they don’t. The filmmakers are more content and more comfortable with the timeless uncertainty of parenting and learning how to let go, but that wasn’t enough. This was a movie that very desperately needed to talk about kids coming of age and discovering their sexuality in this modern, progressive, more open and accepting age, but that never happens. I can’t possibly overstate how huge a problem that is.

See, the whole joke of the movie is that the parents are acting like lunatics over nothing. They’re humiliating themselves and going to criminal extremes (Seriously, one or more of them should be serving literal prison time for some of the shit they pull in this movie.) because 21st century teens are acting in ways that 1980s parents might have been shocked at. That’s the joke. That’s the whole crux of the movie. Psychotic reactions to mundane scenarios. It’s funny, it works, and the premise might have made it sympathetic. Then the filmmakers went and fucked it up.

The only way this could have worked is if the teens in this movie were presented in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way. Instead, the teenage characters are consistently presented as sex-crazed, drug-fueled, over-the-top maniacs. Not a single one of them feels authentic or fleshed-out. This was clearly done in an effort to inject more comedy, but it actually makes the comedy less effective overall. Because the teenagers are all acting in such a way that the parents’ fears are totally justified, the whole movie crumbles. It defeats the comedy, and the greater point about parents letting go descends into rank hypocrisy.

Another great example concerns Sam, in a subplot concerning her status as a closeted lesbian. It’s well-intentioned, but totally tin-eared. Emblematic of the movie as a whole, the subplot is clearly the product of filmmakers who wanted to talk about this subject with no idea of how to actually talk about it in a meaningful way.

Granted, it’s rare for an adult comedy to even address such subject matter. And while such glimpses are fleeting, the movie does show a sincere passion for the topic that’s also rare in adult comedies. That might have gotten the movie a lot more traction… if it wasn’t for Love, Simon. Yes, that was very much a dramatic teen-oriented movie while this is an adult-oriented comedy. But that movie still knew its subject in a way that Blockers could never even begin to comprehend, and it still got some laughs in the process.

To be fair, it’s not like this one was completely void of comedy. I’ll admit that there were a few genuinely clever moments that had me laughing out loud. The cameo roles were especially great — Gary Cole and Gina Gershon are show-stoppers, and Colton Dunn was a riot as the limo driver. And on a final miscellaneous note, it’s worth pointing out that all the nudity in this movie is male. I’m all in favor of that — we need to see male nudity normalized, at least on the level of female nudity.

Blockers is well-intentioned, but ultimately phony. There are enough heartfelt moments in here to show that the filmmakers knew what they really wanted to talk about, but it’s all undone by the filmmakers’ approach to humor. The comedy is broad when it should be nuanced, brainless when it should be intelligent, archaic when it should be modern. It’s a movie all about how parents need to trust their teenage progeny, but the movie itself seems to have virtually zero faith in its teenage characters.

There’s not a single reason to see this while Love, Simon is still in theaters. Not recommended.