Blockers is about parents Mitchell, Lisa, and Hunter (John Cena, Leslie Mann, and Ike Barinholtz), who find out that their respective teenage daughters Kayla, Julie, and Sam (Geraldine Viswanathan, Kathryn Newton, and Gideon Adlon) are all planning to lose their virginities on prom night. They all react in different ways, but they all end up trying to chase their daughters down, hoping to talk them out of making what they feel is a horrible mistake. This, of course, leads to all manner of awkward and uncomfortable hijinks for the adults, all while their kids are also trying to sort through their own personal issues.
This is basically two movies in one. On one side we get a female-centric coming-of-age teenage sex comedy. On the other side, we get a somewhat wackier middle-aged parental comedy that largely involves the three adult characters getting caught up in zany antics, which include butt chugging and stumbling into the middle of an older couple’s sex games. Both sides are pretty solid in terms of generating laughs, and when they work in concert, the film projects warmth and positivity in a way that goes well beyond the call of duty.
Of the two sides, it is the younger portion that is more intriguing. It is the side that is generally less prone to the sort of big, wacky comedic set pieces that we’ve all seen in the Hollywood comedies in the last decade. It’s just a little more grounded, finding its comedy in the various ways that these young women are discovering who they are. It’s three smart coming-of-age tales that work mostly on just having them all hanging out. The other component of this movie has the bigger laughs, but it almost just gets in the way of the genuine sentiment that fuels the heart of this story.
Not to say that any of it is bad, really. It just feels familiar, the film conforming to old paradigms that distract somewhat from the core of the film. This side of the film works best when it gets really thougtful, when it has the characters confronting the smallness of their worldviews. The film is smart enough to acknowledge that their behavior is inherently ridiculous, that the things that they’re doing are probably more trouble than they’re worth. The movie has characters questioning their rationality, and later on, it has them questioning themselves.
The characters are just a little deeper than one might be expecting, and it helps a lot that the cast is so good at bringing the nuances to the fore. Jury’s still out on whether John Cena can actually carry a movie as a comedic lead, but he works well within the ensemble. Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz pick up the slack, and bring some real pathos to what could have been the clunkiest moments of the movie. It’s the kids, though, that really catch one’s attention. In particular: Geraldine Viswanathan, who plays a type that doesn’t seem to have existed in movies before. Kathryn Newton and Gideon Adlon play their parts well, but Viswanathan is the revelation.
Blockers feels like a step forward, though a tentative one. It feels like it’s learned some lessons from the last decade of zany comedies, and it wants to take the genre in interesting new directions. But it’s still holding on to old paradigms, and doesn’t quite go far enough in leaving its own unique stamp. But it’s getting there: amid all the crazy hijinks, there’s just a funny little story here about people adapting to the times, finding the complexitiy and nuance in people, including this new generation of young women, who are actually given the agency to make the choices that they think will make them happy.