Three parents try to prevent their daughters from losing their virginity in this woke-ish so-so comedy starring John Cena, Leslie Mann, and Ike Barinholtz.
Blockers is a film that works better than it has any right to while also barely working at all. It hangs together in a way that predictable mainstream studio comedies sometimes do, thanks to a great cast and some really, really funny individual moments, all the while straining to not collapse under the weight of its various conflicting tones, intentions and concepts. It’s a film which contains several moments of heartfelt and earnest drama, and also a film in which John Cena chugs a beer through his arsehole.
Cena plays a swollen caricature of the world’s greatest dad alongside Leslie Mann as a neurotic single mother and Ike Barinholtz as an irresponsible divorcee making a long overdue attempt to be involved again. Their kids (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon) have been friends since childhood and are now about to graduate and leave for college, but before that: Prom Night, where the girls have made a pact to lose their virginity.
By chance, the parents discover the scheme thanks to a group chat being left open on a laptop, and after deciphering the emojis they set out to stop the plan – which they (incorrectly) assume is ill-advised and (even more incorrectly) possibly coercive.
We’re approaching what makes Blockers a somewhat weird and surprisingly forward-looking comedy, but before that, we do get a relatively formulaic string of comedic events that are solidly executed and consistently clever, but wholly predictable and hamstrung by the film’s lurching shifts in tone. In many respects it feels like an attempt to knock off or update every strain of pop-comedy imaginable, from the coming-of-age shenanigans of Superbad (only for girls, this time) to the gross-out cringe comedy of There’s Something About Mary and all the similar movies that came along in the wake of that one’s success. So there’re gags for the “woke” Millennial sexpots the film is about, often at the expense of their peers and parents, but there are also plenty of jokes for the middle-aged suburban parents the film is for, given its R-rating and older-skewing casting.
It sounds stupid and in many ways it is, but what it’s building towards is refreshingly optimistic, both in how it essentially casts the interfering parents as the bad guys, and in how it draws morale-boosting conclusions about all the tricky aspects of growing up, like drinking, experimenting with drugs and, yes, losing your virginity. What it’s essentially saying is that there’s no possible way you can prevent all this stuff from happening, but it’s kind of hypocritical that you’d want to because, after all, you did all this stuff yourself and you turned out fine, so your kids will likely be okay with it too.
That’s… actually a really novel moral viewpoint for a movie like this to have. Which makes it all the more egregious when its hamstrung so often by a need to include all the raucously over-the-top diversions that weren’t really necessary, and that awkward chafing from trying to position the teen-centric and parent-centric stories so close together.
Still, Blockers commits to its central idea by giving its teenage heroines a lot of agency – the so-called “pact” is entirely their idea and not something they’re particularly serious or worried about, and even their respective partners (including the literal drug dealer) are pretty blasé about the whole thing. Plus the girls are smart and self-aware enough that they really couldn’t feel as though they were being manipulated even if the movie wanted them to – which it doesn’t.
The joke is on the parents, whose out-of-touch blundering leads them into one contrived humorous set-piece after another, and it’s funny to see them fail because we’re meant to recognise how ludicrous and unreasonable their panicky interference is. What’s smart about the dynamic between them is that Cena and Mann are at first presented as the relatable, sympathetic full-time parents, whereas Barinholtz, the part-timer, isn’t treating the situation with anything even close to the grave seriousness the other two think it deserves. But what he’s really worried about is his daughter being peer-pressured into sleeping with a boy rather than just coming out to her friends as gay – which is something he has already realised she is, even if she won’t admit it to herself yet. And that subplot has a sweeter conclusion than either of the others.
Admittedly, that subplot also has the benefit of feeling especially modern, whereas Mann’s overwrought empty-nest angst has been done a thousand times. And I never quite made a decision either way about whether Cena’s fear of his rebellious and defiant daughter’s sexuality was supposed to be taken seriously. They’re both acting out that routine, but they’re both also written as too smart to really think like that, which makes me wonder.
Nevertheless, Blockers is a surprising movie in a lot of ways. I enjoyed it despite it feeling a little too bizarre and schizophrenic to ever be considered a classic. It’s the kind of thing you might stumble on late at night and properly enjoy, without necessarily realising that to kids of a certain age – and, I guess, parents with kids of a certain age – it’s probably the most positive and psychologically healthy portrayal of contemporary teenage social life that you’re likely to see.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.