'Blockers': Film Review | SXSW 2018

A guffaw-stuffed comedy.

Parents played by Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz set out to ruin prom night for their daughters in Kay Cannon's directing debut.

Three high-school girls make a pact to lose their virginity while three of their parents band together to stop them in Blockers, a riotous sex comedy in which the oldsters get as much attention as the kids.

The directing debut of TV producer and Pitch Perfect co-screenwriter Kay Cannon, the film plays to the strengths of its performers, from screen novices to the comic vet of the cast, Leslie Mann, who may never have had this good a showcase. How much gender-equity credit should go to a girl-centric comedy directed by a woman but written by five men and produced by a dozen of them is open to debate. But when it's this funny while respecting every one of its female characters (and, hell, most of the guys, too), few moviegoers will care. With box-office success extremely likely, it should at least buy Cannon another round in the director's chair.

Mann is one of three parents who meet while sending their girls off on their first day of elementary school. The girls are instant BFFs, which means the adults — Mann's Lisa, John Cena's Mitchell and Ike Barinholtz's Hunter — are destined to be in each other's lives, whatever family changes lie in store.

A dozen years later, the girls remain inseparable. Julie (Kathryn Newton, the murdered daughter of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is her single mom Lisa's entire world; bespectacled Sam (Gideon Adlon), whose dad Hunter went AWOL after cheating on her mom, is a social slow-starter who suspects she's gay; and Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) is a supremely self-assured athlete raised in the image of her marshmallow-hearted jock dad, Mitchell.

On the morning of prom, Julie announces to the girls that tonight's the night she'll have sex with longish-term boyfriend Austin (Graham Phillips); she walks them through how the events will proceed, right down to the scent of the candle that always makes her horny. The other two decide to get in on this deflowering action, though their own prospects for magic evenings are hazy. Kayla looks around the cafeteria and declares she's going to sleep "with...that dude." (Thanks to a combination of getting some killer lines and delivering them with aplomb, Viswanathan is the picture's breakthrough talent to watch.)

But Julie leaves her message app running on her laptop when she leaves for the prom, and the girls' rapid-fire texting about the night's plans attract the attention of Lisa, who just sent them off with a pre-event party for the kids and their parents. Baffled, she and Mitchell stare at the emoji-talk scrolling across the screen, guessing what the symbols might mean — a finger moving toward a circle means "you're OK with me!," right? — and trying not to listen to Hunter's more worldly guesses. But when the hashtag #SEXPACT 2018 bloops up onscreen, they admit there's fornication in the works, and Lisa and Mitchell know they have to stop it. Hunter tags along only because, suspecting Sam is a lesbian, he worries she's being peer-pressured into sex with her nerdy buddy Chad (Jimmy Bellinger).

Thus begins a very long night in which the kids accidentally stay one step ahead of the parents they don't know are pursuing them. Both halves of the tale are very funny and stuffed with far too many mishaps to recount, but they complement each other well.

The traditional, boys-perspective sex comedy is typically a quest, with an untouchably hot girl or an unrequited crush the target, and consummation a goal requiring untapped reserves of boldness. Nothing like that is going on here. Though three very different kinds of foreplay are underway — in Kayla's case, the lucky fella is Miles Robbins' Connor, a gourmet drug fiend who invents recipes for a wide variety of illicit edibles, all of which Kayla ingests — no one is unsuspecting prey and nobody's being convinced to do anything by anyone. (Place a small asterisk by Sam's storyline, which is complicated by her otherworldly girl-crush, an underdeveloped part played by Ramona Young.)

Here, the real hurdle is the parents' protectiveness. The film commits wholeheartedly to the cliche (less universally true than it is rhetorically useful) that parents silently root for their boys to be sexually active but are petrified by the thought of their daughters' sexuality. In the movie's most soapbox-y moment, Mitchell's wife (Sarayu Blue) gives him and Lisa a dressing-down when she learns of their mission, telling them they should be ashamed of themselves. Amusingly, Lisa diverts her with her second or third sob-story of the evening until the cock-blocking can proceed.

Fully committed to keeping Julie from making the same mistakes she did, Lisa eventually gets in over her head, and an attempt to escape from a hotel-room sex scene gives Mann a physical-comedy set piece that earned an outburst of applause at the SXSW premiere. She deserved it, for this and other moments, even if by this point it's no surprise when Mann crystallizes some panic-worthy universal truth of parenting onscreen. Her male co-stars both deliver excellent versions of the things we've loved in the past: Cena revisits the hard-body softie of Trainwreck and adds loving-dad overprotectiveness to the mix; Barinholtz, as on The Mindy Project, is the needy bringer of inappropriate gestures and unearned intimacy.

It should hardly need saying that this is a happy-ending sort of film, and the round robin of heart-to-heart confrontations, if less fresh than what we've been watching until now, comes with the territory. Blockers imagines a world in which teens, left to their own devices, are competent to make their own choices, and in which girls stand a fair chance of not regretting their first sexual experiences. Next up, maybe, we'll get a girl version of the sex-humiliation teen comedy — less happy to contemplate, maybe, but probably a juicier gig for whatever actress gets caught with, say, foodstuffs in the bedroom.

Production companies: Point Grey Pictures, Hurwitz & Schlossberg Productions, DMG Entertainment, Good Universe
Distributor: Universal
Cast: Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon, Ghaham Phillips, Miles Robbins, Jimmy Bellinger, June Diane Raphael, Jake Picking, Hannibal Buress, Sarayu Blue, Ramona Young
Director: Kay Cannon
Screenwriters: Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, Eben Russell
Producers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, Chris Fenton
Executive producers: Nathan Kahane, Joseph Drake, Josh Fagen, Chris Cowles, Dave Stassen, Jonathan McCoy
Director of photography: Russ T. Alsobrook
Production designer: Brandon Tonner-Connolly
Costume designer: Sarah Mae Burton
Editor: Stacey Schroeder
Composer: Mateo Messina
Casting directors: Nicole Abellera, Jeanne McCarthy
Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Headliners)

Rated R, 102 minutes