Blockers – Film Review by Thomas Ricard
Director: Kay Cannon
Writers: Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe
Stars: John Cena, Leslie Mann, Kathryn Newton
If there’s anything Hollywood has taught us about losing your virginity, it’s that it’s supposed to be special. So special, in fact, that lifelong friends Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) have all pledged to lose it simultaneously on prom night before college life separates them. Unbeknownst to them, however, their respective parents (Leslie Mann, John Cena & Ike Barinholtz) have caught wind of the pact and are determined to stop them from making what they think could be a life-ruining mistake.
When focused on the generational gap between each group, Blockers delivers genuinely well-earned laughs that are informed, as most good comedy is, by the sense of self-recognition they trigger within their audience. We laugh at the parents’ attempts to decode the sexual meaning behind emojis or the horror with which they experience the sight of an older couple’s active sex life (including a memorable game of blind man’s bluff in the buff) because we either relate to what’s on-screen directly or connect it to acutely-held personal feelings on the subject. Unfortunately, these moments are undercut by a rigid adherence to formulaic emotional beats that ultimately neuter the proceedings.
The central appeal resides in the amusement of watching Generation X-ers navigate millennial concepts of sex, transgression and relationships even as the experience confronts them with their own past youths – or, in the case of irresponsible dad Hunter (Barinholtz), his inability to move on from it. The film’s funniest moments, such as macho man Mitchell (Cena) agreeing to ingest alcohol through his rectum in order to gain the trust of inebriated bros, work to reveal these small truths about the characters without spelling it out for the viewer. So when the screenplay follows a joke with an earnest monologue or dialogue explaining a character’s driving motivation, the communicated sentiment feels both forced and redundant. Worse, these moments end up defanging the feminist satire promised by the premise in favour of conventional parent-child back-patting and conventional truisms about waiting for the right moment.
Further dulling the humour’s impact is the occasional lack of visual flair displayed by first-time director Kay Cannon – until now best known as the screenwriter of the Pitch Perfect trilogy. As with many modern American comedies, dialogue scenes are edited in a fast-paced manner that doesn’t always match the actors’ timing closely enough to let their lines and actions sink in. An extended gag involving Mitchell physically removing Hunter from his car fails to take full advantage of Cena’s comically oversized physique due to a lack of variety in frames and angles, instead opting mostly for tightly framed shots that show just enough for the audience to chuckle at the concept rather than at the whole picture. Compared to classics like Fast Times At Ridgemont High or more recent comedies like Everybody Wants Some!!!, Blockers’ gags often feel limited in scope and energy, as if struggling to break free from the restraints of Cannon’s imagination.
In many respects, Blockers is emblematic of the crisis currently traversing American comedic cinema: sitcom-inspired dialogue drives visual rhythm at the expense of space. Sex jokes and gross-out gags perform aesthetic makeovers for old-fashioned relationship models more than they upset the status quo. Comedy Central aficionados may yet find their money’s worth in this, but those seeking a more refreshing take on the genre will likely be disappointed.
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