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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 15, 2018   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Studio comedy shines with unexpected intimacy

Blockers

Point Grey Pictures

“Blockers” is a good movie. Yes. You read that right. The film that features butt chugging, sex pacts and copious amounts of vomit is nuanced, sweet and emotionally resonant.

Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), Julie (Kathryn Newton) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) have been best friends since their first day of kindergarten. As their senior year of high school comes to a close, the three want to take a step into adulthood and plan to lose their virginity on prom night. Unfortunately, their parents, Mitchell (John Cena), Lisa (Leslie Mann) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), catch onto their scheme and do everything in their parental power to stop their kids from making a “mistake.”

Despite the concept, “Blockers” is a surprisingly sex-positive film. The parents are never justified in their often extreme actions, and director Kay Cannon sends a clear message — kids will grow up, and parents shouldn’t stop them. The film is as much about the parents’ fear as it is about the teens’ liberation. Cannon balances both sides of the story, giving each parent ample motivation and a rich backstory. Hunter’s path is surprisingly emotional; he’s initially framed as a cheating, rotten, childish failure, but as the film progresses and Hunter’s true nature is revealed, he becomes the most tragic character in the film. Lisa — a young, single mother who’s afraid to see Julie follow in her footsteps — also gets time to shine and grow. Even Mitchell, whose arc is simple and more direct, is still a resonant illustration of parental anxiety.

“Blockers” culminates in three separate scenes in which each parent accepts that their child is no longer a baby. In those moments, you realize that Mitchell, Lisa and Hunter aren’t bad people, just misguided parents.

Kayla, Julie and Sam’s stories are less dynamic than their parents’. Only Sam, who spends prom night coming to terms with her sexuality, undergoes a change in character. But their shallow personalities don’t detract from the film’s emotional core — “Blockers” isn’t about teenagers; it’s about parents.

The film suffers in its less serious moments; it’s shackled to broad-appeal comedy. The comedic set pieces — the best of which are spoiled in the trailer — are lifeless and predictable. Even the physical humor lacks kinetic flare, feels static and falls flat. A scene in which the parents chase the teens’ limo is not enjoyable as action or comedy. After a few quips from the parents, the sequence ends in a bit of gross-out humor that’s grotesque and unpleasant. Even the set pieces that succeed do so in spite of their gags; a tense home invasion sequence is an example of good suspense, not good comedy. The humor in “Blockers” feels like padding between more intimate moments.

There’s a clear identity crisis throughout “Blockers.” Cannon crafted an honest, heartfelt examination of bad parenting and melded it with a dull, lifeless studio comedy. Even the final moments suffer from this split. As Julie, Sam and Kayla leave on a road trip, Lisa pulls out her phone and records Julie as she embarks on a new stage of her life. It’s a perfect mirror to the film’s opening scene in which Julie, awkward and scared, walks into kindergarten, meets Sam and Kayla and leaves her mother behind. But, rather than end on that introspective, sweet note, Cannon spoils the mood with another easy joke.

“Blockers” is a surprisingly competent story about parental anxiety; unfortunately, that tender, heartfelt narrative is fused with a middling comedy. But, despite its flaws, the film is a strong example of what comedy can be in 2018; there will always be a place for simple, crass or obnoxious humor, but a good story and strong characters will always matter more.

Jake Leary can be reached at jleary@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @jd_leary