A new breed of low-brow comedy

Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena in Blockers

I used to think that the American Pie movies were the teen sex romps of my youth, but I don’t think that’s fully accurate – they’re just the movies that implanted a fucked up idea of what sex, partying, graduation and being somewhat of an adult would be like. The American Pie movies in no way reflected what my life as a teenager was and, now that I am an old, it’s impossible for me to look at teen movies and gauge whether they’re accurate or not. If my own anecdotal experience is any indication, however, something like Blockers has absolutely nothing to do with the lives of today’s 18-year-olds. I would like to believe that it’s somewhat closer, however, considering how progressive Blockers’ dick jokes and pukefests are, relatively speaking.

Blockers belongs to a new breed of low-brow comedies that suggest that perhaps there’s more to growing pains and coming-of-age than young men getting their dicks stuck in things and jizzing in inappropriate situations/on inappropriate things. Blockers is not exactly operating at a highly woke level of sophistication (it has a mass puking scene to rival Problem Child 2, for example) but just the fact that a mainstream studio comedy suggests that young women can have sex and enjoy it without being burned at the stake is already a step in the right direction.

Best friends Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) have all vowed to lose their virginity on prom night; Julie to her boyfriend of six months, Kayla to her charming stoner lab partner and Sam to the goofy theatre kid she’s been stringing along as she struggles to come out as a lesbian to her friends and family. Julie’s overprotective mother Lisa (Leslie Mann) happens to be made privy to those plans just as Kayla’s manly-man father Mitch (John Cena) and Sam’s fuck-up/semi-deadbeat dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) are there to see them off. Julie and Mitch immediately decide it’s their duty to stop them from fulfilling their pact, much to the disappointment of surprisingly understanding (but still somewhat unstable and irresponsible) Hunter.

What ensues is a madcap into-the-night series of hijinx the likes of which you may well have seen before. Director Kay Cannon (making her directorial debut here, she’s best known for writing the Pitch Perfect films) is clearly a fan of Apatowian improvisation, and it’s the easy rapport that scores laughs rather than the film’s more try-hard comedic setpieces. These include all the old chestnuts: a car exploding, mass vomiting, the film’s most macho character being forced to stick something up his ass and more door-slamming vaudevillian acrobatics (hiding under a bed during sex!) than is generally considered healthy by your family doctor. (The exception might be a scene in which Cena and Barinholtz are caught in the middle of a kinky sex game performed by the very willing – and very naked – Gary Cole and Gina Gershon.)

Those scenes have varying levels of effectiveness, but the majority of the heavy lifting is done by the actors and their bizarre, chummy rapport. The casting of the three leads may seem like mix-and-match randomness (especially considering that only Mann has ever really had a leading part in a comedy) but each brings a surprising amount to the table. I’m a sucker for into-the-night comedies, but what makes or breaks the majority of them isn’t how loud the actors yell at preposterous situations but the way in which they put themselves there.

Blockers is ostensibly a teen sex comedy, though the parental angle certainly shines the spotlight away from the teenagers. If the film really has a weakening flaw, it’s that it sometimes forgets the teens at the centre of its teen comedy, making them more of a plot device than full-fledged characters. Viswanathan and Adlon (daughter of Pamela Adlon of Better Things and Louie fame) acquit themselves well with the material, but Newton is saddled with a wispy nothing of a character. As the would-be “straight man” of a crew that requires no such thing, she’s tasked with doing a whole lot of nothing.

Blockers comes from a long line of raunchy teen sex comedies, and there’s no indication that it will bring an end to the genre. It goes to show that you can still pack a movie full of jizz, shit, beer, puke, mud, butts, dongs and shrooms without ever really doing it at the expense of anyone. The closest thing Blockers does to punching down is to make fun of a guy’s fedora, which… fedoras had it coming. It’s a heavily imperfect film: the editing can get pretty choppy as Cannon fits the best improv in a scene that wasn’t necessarily designed for that particular improv, and the film all but comes to a grinding halt at the midpoint so a character can deliver the film’s thesis (that women’s sexualities are held to a double standard), but it’s a nice movie with nice, accepting values that also features an extreme close-up of a scrotum being brutally twisted. Another double standard demolished!  ■

Blockers opens in theatres on Friday, April 4. Watch the trailer here:

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