Blockers is the type of movie we’re talking about when we say gender parity in Hollywood will lead to better, more interesting stories. A female director managed to come along and revive the teen sex comedy mostly by telling a familiar story but from a new point of view. Turns out, a storyline combining equal parts Superbad, American Pie, and Porky’s doesn’t seem so derivative when it dares to ask, “What if in this version it’s a story about the girls, not the guys?”
A bit of background: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg had a sex comedy script from a couple of guys who imagined a scenario in which three dads go to extreme lengths to put the kibosh on their daughter’s plans to lose their virginity on prom night. They called it Cherries. Over time, one of the dads was changed into a mom, and the title was dropped in favor of Blockers. The script was also revised to make it equally about the hormonal daughters (played by Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon) and their overprotective parents (played by Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz).
Most significant to that process was Kay Cannon, a Tina Fey writing alumn with Pitch Perfect, New Girl, and Girlboss on her resume along with 30 Rock. She’d been a part of a gathering of female writers asked by Rogen and Goldberg to consult on Neighbors 2, a sequel to a very dude-centric comedy about a fraternity that was flipping the script and focusing on a sorority this time. Cannon’s leadership in this unofficial writer’s room so impressed Rogen and Goldberg that they kept her in mind for any future projects. When Blockers came along they offered her the job to direct even though she hadn’t directed anything before.
Like Greta Gerwig with Lady Bird before her, she was absolutely ready. She’d already grown tired of watching of other people direct her writing, and Blockers was something she knew she could improve, telling Esquire:
I’m a parent of a daughter, and I was also a teenage girl who lost her virginity. And I knew what the changes that I wanted to make and how to make it more from a female perspective, because it very much felt like it came from a male perspective. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
Not that she didn’t have to fight. Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen showed with Superbad, a movie based on their own teenage experience, they understand what it’s like to be a teenage boy. In hiring Cannon, they acknowledged that a movie which flips the genders in the scenario needs a female perspective. Still, Goldberg occasionally pushed back on Cannon’s comedic impulses, repeatedly asking her to take things out during the editing in post-production because, as he saw it, “Teenage girls don’t talk like that.”
Oh, but they do, and Cannon had the recorded laughs from test screenings to prove it. Goldberg predicted audiences would react negatively to hearing teenage girls spout lines like “I’d rather eat ten dicks than one Mound!” He was wrong. He thought audiences wouldn’t believe a girl as attractive as Geraldine Viswanathan would have seriously never had a guy go down on her before. He was wrong, and Cannon used the test screenings to prove that to him.
Except, of course, Blockers isn’t just about the teenagers. It’s equally about the parents. In fact, middle-aged skin (in a sequence I won’t spoil) is the only real source of nudity in the film, and the emotional core of the story invariably leans toward the parents and their inability to relinquish control over their daughters’ lives.
Here again, Cannon’s experience of being able to relate to both parties in the story helped immensely, resulting in a wonderful mid-movie argument between Leslie Mann and John Cena’s wife played by Sarayu Blue.
By this point in the film, the parents have had a couple of near-misses with the daughters, always one step behind them, but still moving undetected. Indeed, for the majority of the story, the daughters have no idea what their parents are up to. Mann, Cena, and Barinholtz need information only Blue has, and that means catching her up on everything they’ve done to that point. To their surprise, she’s okay with the girls’ sex pact because she trusts her daughter to behave responsibly and also despises the apparent double standard at play. Indeed, both Cena and Barinholtz struggle to explain to her why they’re acting the way they are when they’d be totally okay if it was their teenage son about to have sex for the first time.
I should note the specter of pregnancy, STDs, and possible religious belief is never fully spelled out, nor is it in most sex comedies. Among the three I just mentioned, only pregnancy is even acknowledged as a potential side effect of the sex pact. It comes via Mann’s character, who has an early meltdown where she admits her daughter was an accident born out of a tryst during her more innocent, responsibility-free days obsessively following the Dave Matthews Band on tour.
It is thus Mann who Blue has the biggest beef with. The dads behaving the way they are she gets, but the mom? WTF?
As Cannon told Esquire: “There’s an important scene with two mothers of two of the daughters in question having two completely different points of view on the topic. I just feel like that’s the struggle with moms. That struggle is real: You want your daughter to be independent, free-thinking, and treated equally in this society, right? And then there’s a part of you that’s like, Boy, a lot of bad things can happen. As a parent, that’s a dilemma I feel like I will face.”
She ultimately falls down on the side of trusting your kids, teaching them about safe sex, and accepting them for who they are.
All of this in a movie that introduces the concept of butt-chugging into the popular consciousness.
Therein lies the rub: Blockers is still just a sex comedy – a sneakily sentimental one, but a big studio sex comedy nonetheless. If it can be said that A Quiet Place is really a more mainstream, classically accessible version of It Comes at Night minus the paranoia, it can be equally said Blockers is a loud, bawdy version of Lady Bird minus the class commentary. Indeed, it works best if you never stop to think about what these people do for a living or how much money they have. It’s certainly possible to enjoy both, but if your tastes lean indie and understated then Blockers might seem far too big and loud.
However, the loudest thing I heard at the movie last night was the laughter at the film’s non-stop barrage of jokes. Most of the laughs seemed to come from teenagers who looked just like the girls on the screen. What must it feel like to finally see yourself on screen? They have Kay Cannon to thank.