Movie Review: ‘BLOCKERS’ – Parents just don’t understand (but they will)

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

BLOCKERS

Rated R, 102 minutes
Directed by: Kay Cannon
Starring: Leslie MannKathryn Newton, John CenaIke Barinholtz, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon, Gary Cole, Gina Gershon, Ramona Young, Miles Robbins, Graham Phillips, Sarayu Blue, Jimmy Bellinger

Prom night is a major milestone in any teen’s life, and also fertile ground upon which Hollywood loves to build stories. Films like CARRIE (1976 and 2013) and PROM NIGHT (1980 and 2008) showed us the hellacious horrors behind the traditional pomp and circumstance. SHE’S OUT OF CONTROL showed a comedic – if not wildly problematic and extremely dated – side of the events from a parental perspective. The rite of passage typically makes for a great setting for a denouement in any genre as it’s universal in appeal, texture and feel. Director Kay Cannon’s BLOCKERS irreverence, progressive humor and heartfelt sentiments spring from the well of misunderstandings between parents and their teens. This unexpectedly solid film is not only sex-positive, honest and absurdly hilarious, but it’s bound to give parental relationships everywhere the healthy communicative tools they need.

Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) have always had a tight connection from the moment their daughters – Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) – made a lasting bond on their grade school’s front steps. But after years filled with holiday parties, concerts, and other big life-changing events, the adults have grown apart. Mitchell has a new baby. Hunter is a divorced, perpetual loser. And Lisa’s become a helicopter mom. It’s going to take a huge revelation to bring these fractured friends back together again. Sure enough, it does. The gang catches wind of a prom night pact their daughters have made to lose their virginity. Instead of trusting their kids, the trio lose all sanity and reason – and embark on a wild nighttime adventure, trying to put an end to it.

John Cena, Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz in BLOCKERS. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Cannon, along with screenwriters Brian and Jim Kehoe, have given parents and their teens a modern middle ground on which to meet. Even if you’re not a parent, this movie will speak to your universal, compassionate understanding of humanity – and what constitutes comedy. The narrative avoids the lascivious, regressive trappings of films like SHE’S OUT OF CONTROL, where the parental figure seeks to control a woman’s body. Here, everywhere these parents show up, other level-headed parents lecture them on their misguided mindsets. The best example of this is between the two moms: Lisa and Mitchell’s wife Marcie (Sarayu Blue).

The overarching, heartrending message about teenage female friendship also deservedly earns equal time to all the parental tomfoolery. The ways in which these young ladies are written defy pat stereotypes, making them seem delightfully refreshing, real and raw. Sam, who’s struggling with her sexuality, is so much more than a one-dimensional portrait of a teen embarrassed by her dad’s behavior; Kayla is good student looking to rebel responsibly; Julie is an empathetic girl beginning to make her own adult decisions.

Perhaps what’s best is that the filmmakers are able to play around with all different facets of comedy (broad, physical, slapstick, absurdist, raunchy, romantic) – and it all works effortlessly. It’s a veritable buffet of comedic style. One of the bigger comedic set pieces weaves together a whisper argument between Mitchell and Hunter, a game of sexy Marco Polo, and an homage to JURASSIC PARK. There’s even a cacophonous vomit concerto set in the back of a limo. And if that’s not enough, there’s a great pratfall involving Lisa and a hotel TV. But for every raunchy or rowdy set piece, there’s another terrific heartwarming scene to balance everything out. And when the character revelations begin, the film finds its heartbeat.

Performances are also crucial to much of the narrative success. The entire ensemble handles tonal shifts with ease. What’s even more noteworthy is that every cast member gets a moment to shine – whether that be a top billed star like Mann, who is like a Heinz bottle full of 57 mood swings, or the supporting male players like prom dates Connor (Miles Robbins), Austin (Graham Phillips), and Chad (Jimmy Bellinger). However, it’s really Barinholtz who delivers something really special. Thanks to the material being up to par with his skills, he shows a dynamic range we’ve never seen from him before.

Last year around this time, I was lamenting the death of the studio comedy. I’m now so happy to no longer be doing that.

Grade: A-

BLOCKERS is now playing.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.