Film Review: ‘Blockers’

A prom-night comedy about three girls out to lose their virginity — and the parents who are desperate to stop them — proves, more than ever, that feminine raunch has become the hilarious new normal.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Blockers,” a prom-night comedy that’s as elegantly witty as it is deliriously raunchy, isn’t the first movie (far from it) to be in thrall to the proposition that girls can be as nasty, as wild, and as grossly outrageous as dudes. Amazingly, it wasn’t so long ago that the idea actually seemed quite novel. In 2011, when “Bridesmaids” came out, it was hard to think of another movie before “Bridesmaids” that delivered the same richly satisfying kick of feministic bad behavior. Yet in the years since, movies like the scabrous “Bachelorette” (2012), the stupendous “Trainwreck” (2015), and the scandalously giddy “Girls Trip” (2017) have taken what began as gender-flipping frankness and turned it into the new normal. “Blockers” spins that attitude forward in a delightful, drop-dead outlandish way.

The movie is about three high-school seniors who’ve been friends since kindergarten — eager Julie (Kathryn Newton), acerbic Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), and insecure Sam (Gideon Adlon) — and how they make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. That makes “Blockers” sound like the girls’ version of a bad ’80s teen comedy, but actually it’s nothing like that (it comes closer to being a female “Superbad”), and the key to what’s fresh about the film is that the R-rated obscenity, while there’s plenty of it, comes at you in an ultra-matter-of-fact way. Julie, Kayla, and Sam don’t turn the prospect of losing their virginity into the horny-girl version of the Holy Grail. It’s something they decide on a whim because they’re not actually all that uptight about it.

The three bop from prom to house party to hotel party. They send text messages using enough transgressive emojis (phallic eggplants, smiley faces leaking bodily fluids) to read like porno hieroglyphs. They get smashed and stoned, they engage in a spontaneous puke-in in the back of their limo, and they talk, more or less the entire time, in a tossed-off blue streak of ironically lewd and lusty banter. (“I’d rather eat 10 d—ks than one Mound,” says Julie, referring to the candy bar.) One of the central jokes of “Blockers” is that even as these three are working overtime to lose their innocence, they scarcely have much innocence to lose. Yet that doesn’t mean they’re jaded or cynical, or that they’re mean girls. They’re sweet, cool, whip-smart, and utterly relatable young women. But they’re prematurely wised-up, maybe because they’ve seen too many movies (starting with “Bridesmaids”).

Besides, these three hardly need to act out the fear and desire they feel about growing up; the other terrific joke of “Blockers” is that they’ve got their folks to do it for them. The movie takes its title, which sounds generic but is actually megaplex shorthand for “C—blockers,” from their trio of fanatically overprotective parents, who team up on prom night to stalk them and make sure that they don’t lose their virginity. There’s Lisa (Leslie Mann), Julie’s single mother, who manages to be the hippest mom in the room and also the most high maintenance (Mann plays her with a hellacious spark). There’s Kayla’s father, Mitchell (John Cena), a sensitive hulk who jostles, with uproarious articulation, between rage and tears. And there’s Sam’s divorced dad, Hunter (Ike Barinholtz, who’s like a geek Mark Wahlberg), the most disreputable of the three, and also, in his sleazy way, the most scrappily insightful.

The director, Kay Cannon, was an award-winning writer and producer on “30 Rock” before she went on to write the screenplays for “Pitch Perfect” and its two sequels (the most recent one with Mike White). In “Blockers,” Cannon is working from a script by Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe that puts a lot of naughty teen flicks in the blender, but the dialogue isn’t labored. It’s fast and furious, and Cannon keeps the action flowing in a spontaneous dirty-deeds-all-night-long way.

The comedy isn’t in the situations but in the banter — the way John Cena’s Mitchell, for instance, keeps rationalizing everything, even as he remains utterly deluded about what he’s actually up to: not so much saving his daughter’s virtue as trying to hold onto her childhood. Cena, his scowling features as expressive as a mood ring, delivers what Dwayne Johnson promises — a human being trapped in his muscles. And he’s the hilarious punchline of the movie’s centerpiece: a prom party in which he’s forced to imbibe beer with a butt-chug. It’s an explosively funny scene — though topped, if possible, by one in which Mitchell and Hunter have to grab the body parts of two naked (and blindfolded) kinky parents, complete with silently mouthed and subtitled protestations.

If the parents in “Blockers” are the film’s prime comic spark plugs, the actresses playing the three young heroines have a witty style all their own; they shine with knowing glee. So do the actors playing their prom dates, from Jimmy Bellinger as the pork-pie-hatted dork Chad to Miles Robbins as Connor, the hottie in a man-bun whose smiley passivity marks him as a righteous dude of his time. Kathryn Newton’s Julie, who has gotten into UCLA, plays out a conflict with her mother over where she’s going to go to college that echoes the one in “Lady Bird” (this one isn’t as artful, but it does raise the stakes). And Gideon Adlon makes Sam’s coming to grips with her sexuality — she only has eyes for the bejeweled Angelica (Ramona Young) — at once slyly funny and moonstruck. “Blockers,” which is sure to be a major hit, isn’t really about these girls losing their virginity. It’s about how they seize control of their destinies, one triumphantly lewd zinger at a time.

Film Review: ‘Blockers’

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (World Premiere), March 10, 2018. Running time: <strong>102 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: A Universal Pictures release of a Point Grey Pictures, Good Universe, DMG Entertainment, Hurwitz & Schlossberg Productions prod. 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.
  • Crew: Director: Kay Cannon. Screenplay: Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe. Camera (color, widescreen): Russ T. Alsobrook. Editor: Stacey Schroeder. Music: Mateo Messina.
  • With: Kathryn Newton, John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan, Graham Phillips, Miles Roberts, Jimmy Bellinger, Ramona Young.