If Blockers earns the right to be called remarkable, it’s not on the grounds of imagination. Lining the movie from beginning to end are staples of the gross-out genre so familiar that you’ll be astounded that any creative team thought they could play as new in 2018. We’re talking marathons of inebriation, vomiting medleys, and an increasingly devastating array of wrong-place-wrong-time sexual catastrophes. But mixed in with the lot is a tenderness that does ring as somewhat remarkable, at least considering its home. Blockers may sell tickets on the inferred hilarity of a premise so ostensibly regressive that it, too, feels like a surprising roll of the dice in the present year, but its regular inclinations toward something far sweeter and sharper is what makes the film worth sitting through.
The ill-conceived entry point to which I’m referring is, of course, Lisa ( Leslie Mann) and Mitchell’s ( John Cena) kneejerk decision to stop their respective teenage daughters from losing their virginities on the night of senior prom. The first of the film’s big surprises is its fairly valiant effort toward contending with just how backwards, immature, and innately misogynistic this plan really is. This end of the philosophical spectrum spawns from, of all places, Ike Barinholtz’s Hunter, estranged father of the third leg of the Lisa’s and Mitchell’s kids’ social tripod. Despite ideological opposition to their mission of chastity, Hunter tags along, mostly by means of contrivance; that he’s such a welcome presence helps to forgive the matter before you have time to give it much thought.
What ensues is a shaggy comedy of errors as the trio high-tails it from one prom night pit stop to the next, always a few leagues shy of their daughters. While the journey’s broadest exploits fall (sometimes morosely) flat, Blockers might just make up for this with such graceful service to the softer end of the comedic spectrum. Between exploits in butt-chugging and crotch-grabbing, we get pithy discussions about subjects as substantial as childrearing, tolerance, and even genuine despair—all allowing for a more intimate connection with the central characters than you’ll likely expect of a movie that builds a comic set piece around John Cena squeezing a blindfolded Gary Cole’s genitals, and all supplying far stronger laughs than the scene in which John Cena is forced to squeeze a blindfolded Gary Cole’s genitals.
The second of the film’s big surprises is just how much of Blockers is devoted to the daughters themselves. While Mann, Cena, and Barinholtz command the bulk of the action and comedy, the younger generation—Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), and Sam (Gideon Adlon)—aren’t exactly relegated to the sporadic cutaway scene. Each of the girls has her own concerns, yearnings, and wacky misadventures, all of which Blockers is willing to contend with in earnest. To a degree.
Dispiritingly, even its strong suits are only halfway realized. Though founded on the rejection of the gender imbalance that has kept tight hold on the sex comedy for decades, Blockers isn’t quite as generous as it seems to think it is in affording its teenage tier the opportunity to show off their propensity for getting wacky. Likewise proud to brandish the banner of queer empowerment, Blockers lands in something of a tricky grey area when it comes to the story surrounding its only gay character.
Ample lip service is paid to the encouragement of Adlon’s Sam to explore and embrace her sexual orientation, not to mention a pair of genuinely sensitive—not altogether fleshed-out, but sensitive nonetheless—scenes devoted to the undertaking that is her coming out. But for every endeavor in bridging the gap between gay stories and straight, there arises another ill-conceived choice pulling these ends apart, principally taking form as an abject tonal shift that transpires whenever Sam interacts with her crush. And did I mention how hard Blockers expects you to laugh at John Cena squeezing a blindfolded Gary Cole’s genitals?
Resting comfortably on the laurels of good intentions—and occasionally up on its high horse about it to boot—Blockers isn’t quite the pioneer of a reinvented genre that it wants to be. To its credit, there are hints of reinvention scattered about, even bolstered to the point of demanding notice by a winning league of women playing the sort of material you don’t usually get to see them play. With her sanity slipping rapidly over the span of the film, Mann goes screwball in a delightful fashion, while newcomers Viswanathan and Adlon tamper expertly in bawdy and awkward.
Yes, this lot is anchored back a bit too far by the film’s weaker, lazier inclinations. But peering through just frequently enough are Blocker‘s brighter notes. They’ll at the very least get you to the end, and perhaps even prove remarkable enough to stick with you thereafter.
Rating: 3 out of 5
M. Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find them on Twitter @micarbeiter.
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