The selling point in the trailers for Blockers has been its over-the-top comedy featuring stars Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz as overprotective parents attempting to stop their teenage daughters from losing their virginity on prom night. But there’s a better movie trying to assert itself inside Blockers, a coming-of-age story featuring those teenage girls as they struggle to define their identities, face their futures and get totally wasted with their friends. This potential female version of Superbad is frequently at odds with the more conventional, underwhelming comedy focused on the adult characters, who learn painfully obvious lessons and end up rewarded for some seriously misguided behavior.
Still, the movie is likable enough to put it a cut above a lot of mainstream R-rated comedies, and the gross-out gags are not as excessive or unpleasant as might be expected. Mann, Cena and Barinholtz are more than willing to embarrass themselves as the adults who can’t let go of the idea of their daughters as innocent little girls, but the real emotional weight of the story comes from the young performers.
Single mother Lisa (Mann) is afraid of being alone once her daughter Julie (Kathryn Newton) leaves for college, and is worried about Julie making the same mistakes that she did as a young woman. Macho but sensitive Mitchell (Cena) has been the hero to his daughter Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) for her entire life, and can’t accept Kayla’s impending independence. And goofy screw-up Hunter (Barinholtz) just wants to get back in the life of his daughter Sam (Gideon Adlon), after skipping out on most of her childhood following his divorce from her mother (an amusingly caustic and underused June Diane Raphael).
As soon as Lisa and Mitchell discover their daughters’ pact to all get laid on prom night, Hunter admonishes them that preventing young women from exploring their sexuality is regressive, patriarchal and condescending, not to mention almost certainly destined to fail (and Mitchell’s wife repeats the same pretty clear talking points a few scenes later). But then the three adult characters (after Hunter is reluctantly recruited to their side) have to spend the next 90 minutes learning those lessons anyway, and their journey toward basic respect for their children isn’t particularly sympathetic or convincing, no matter how likable the actors may be.
The three teens, however, are much more enjoyable to watch, and perhaps freed from the pressures of appearing in trailer-friendly set pieces (the less said about Mitchell’s “butt-chugging,” the better), they’re able to engage in more grounded comedic journeys. Although the characters broadly fall into typical teen-movie archetypes (the popular girl, the jock, the nerd), the actors give them extra depth even with less screen time than their adult counterparts, and the screenplay by Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe always treats them with respect. Viswanathan is especially strong as a girl who’s never ashamed to go after what she wants, or to reconsider her decisions if her feelings change.
It’s a shame, then, that the movie cuts back to the parents’ hyperactive shenanigans so frequently, and that their story dominates the running time. Director Kay Cannon, a veteran film and TV writer (the Pitch Perfect movies, 30 Rock) making her directorial debut, keeps the pacing fairly lively, but the movie could have used more of her talents in the writing, to sharpen the fairly predictable lowbrow jokes or to focus on the kind of teen-girl solidarity that makes the Pitch Perfect series appealing. The screenplay does give the adults some more serious material about aging and regret, but when their behavior is so inconsiderate for the majority of the movie, those emotional moments feel unearned. They just get in the way of the fun teen comedy happening in the margins.