When the first trailer for Blockers, Kay Cannon’s directorial debut, was released over the summer, I surmised that the only way the movie would be any good was if the three parents intent on blocking their teenage daughters’s attempts to lose their virginity on prom night drove into the woods and had a threesome. If that scenario had come to fruition, I would’ve watched a very different meditation on a mid-life crisis of which Blockers sort of is. An early review from Vanity Fair clocked Cannon’s film as a “perfect sex comedy for the #TimesUp era”—a designation that suggested an empowerment-forward narrative about three teenage girls wresting control over their sexuality and leaving home. Instead, Blockers is a movie built for nervous parents unwilling to let go and their teenage daughters unwittingly forced to help them along the way.
To its credit, the plot is very simple. Mitchell (John Cena), Lisa (Leslie Mann), and Hunter (Ike Barinholz) are three parents whose children—Kaila (Geraldine Viswanathan), Julie(Kathryn Newton), and Sam (Gideon Adlon, daughter of Pamela)—have been best friends since girlhood. Prom is imminent, and as cinematic history has foretold, that means they must make a pact to lose their virginity. Their parents discover this fact by reading a text message that includes the eggplant emoji, the internationally-recognized symbol for dick. It’s this text message, seen “accidentally” by Julie’s mother, Lisa—Mann doing her most performative Leslie Mann impression—and Mitchell that sets this rollicking romp in motion. Joining these two dopes is Barinholz’s Hunter, Sam’s largely-absentee father who blows back into town in an attempt to win his daughter over.
The caper that follows portrays the parents as dopes whose reaction to their children getting older is outsized and slightly alarming—expressed halfway through via a monologue from Marcie (Sarayu Blue), who delivers a speech about double-standards, saying that their daughters should have agency over their precious flowers and be allowed to explore their sexuality however they see fit. Naturally, logic and reason are soundly ignored, and the parents continue to chase their children around the Chicagoland area, encountering various obstacles along the way.
Every comedic set piece along the way is in service to the parents’ larger goal: to prevent their children from having sex and therefore, growing up. John Cena’s Mitchell is a muscle-bound softie who refuses to see his daughter for the woman she’s become; in a scene that seems intended to be funny, he butt-chugs a beer at an after-prom party and later spews that beer out of his butt and into Barinholz’s face. At various points throughout this never-ending night, the teens excrete fountains of CGI vomit, oddly shimmery and lacking the heft of the fake stuff. There is full frontal male nudity and very little of its female counterpart in a nod to nudity parity that does not go unnoticed. It’s all meant to be gross, but ends up feeling strangely stuffy. It turns out, Blockers isn’t so much about teen girls exploring their sexuality and coming into their own; it’s about the parents’ anxiety, which is the humming engine that drives the plot to its conclusion and takes center stage.
The bits and bobs of Sam, Julie, and Kaila’s friendship are a pleasure to watch, and the script, written by Brian and Jim Kehoe, is quippy and fast-paced. But would it have been so bad to shift the focus of the story from the parents’ panic about giving up to the daughter’s friendship, which felt solid and genuine and nice, and the challenges that friendship might face in the advent of sex, going to college, and growing up?
The teen supporting characters—in this case, the three objects of Julie, Sam, and Kaila’s affection—are developed well enough for the little amount of screen time their stories receive. Connor (Miles Robbins, son of Tim and Susan) is especially delightful as the school’s resident drug chef, who proffers macarons laced with DMT and a dash of Xanax and his own special vape oil blend throughout the night. All the teen relationships are handled with grace and a heavy dose of pragmatism. Julie and her boyfriend Austin’s relationship is surprisingly mature and is consummated without much consequence or fanfare. Kaila, sexually adventurous and hilarious, makes a decision about whether or not she wants to give it up with no pushback from her intended target. And Sam, whose storyline is the most fraught, ends up in a better place with the unbridled love and support of everyone around her. Each teen girl seems a bit like an archetype rather than a fully-fleshed character, while the parents are given the space to grow emotionally and change. Parents scared of their own irrelevancy in the face of their children growing up is a tale as old as time. We know the kids are alright, but maybe once it’d be nice to show how that came to be.