John Cena, wrestler and employee of the Daddy’s Home franchise, is in the Jingle All the Way era of his career, and, as Buzzfeed columnists would say, We’re here for it. All of us. There’s hardly a more reasonable way to respond to Blockers, in which Cena plays fastidious, incomprehensibly beefy dad Mitchell, who is unable to deal with the revelation that his daughter, high-schooler Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), plans to lose her virginity at her senior prom. Blockers is a second-generation teen romp openly owing its lineage to Superbad and American Pie while trying something new: not as consumed by its vulgarity, treating its teens who actually look like teens as the over-jaded post-Millennials they supposedly are, and having most of the film’s nudity provided by men, i.e., Gary Cole going full frontal, unashamed of his nice dick. In other words, no one wants to cheer for the toxic privilege of rich, white, horny, suburban high-school boys anymore, but we do want to cheer for best friendship and young people starting to figure their shit out and parents who learn how to give them the space and respect to do that. And if John Cena is the paternalistic He-Man—the Jim’s Dad of the Dwayne the Rock Johnson Generation, if you will—to guide the youth through their cinematic, sex-positive formative years, then let Blockers test his mettle.
Mitchell, apparently happily married to workaholic Marcie (Sarayu Blue), operates as homemaker overseeing the lives of Kayla and her baby sibling, human who means pretty much nothing to the course of the movie. Kayla prepares for prom with her two best friends Sam (GIdeon Adlon) and Julie (Kathryn Newton), who, because she’s in love with boyfriend Austin (Graham Phillips, affable dreamboat), also prepares for sex (for the first time). Their story goes back to the first day of elementary school, where Mitchell also happened to meet Julie’s mom Lisa (Leslie Mann) and Sam’s dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz). From then on the families bonded, montages proceeded and their daughters came of age.
Though the girls stayed close, the parents’ familiarity strained more and more under the weight of whatever life happened to offer—primarily, Hunter’s affair with a babysitter, leading to his split with Brenda (June Diane Raphael) and his daughter cutting off most contact with him. Despite Mitchell’s best attempts to hang out, Lisa doesn’t return any of his calls, maybe because she’s a single mom who works a lot to afford a huge beautiful house in some unmarked Chicago suburb—or not, it’s never really explained why the two grew apart. Blockers leaves a lot of character details and plot threads where they fall, which is either a matter of grabbing only a glimpse of these very long and complicated lives, or its a matter of some formless, lazy writing. Feels like both.
Encouraged by Julie’s plans for the “perfect” first time, the girls make a pact to have prom night host the loss of their virginity, an event they’ll be able to celebrate every year for the rest of their lives as each other’s best friends. Reunited at Lisa’s house to send off the girls in their limo, paid for by an estranged Hunter grasping at straws to reconnect with his kid, Mitchell and Lisa discover a three-way text revealing the girls’ intentions for the night. Beset by their insecurities over their children leaving them for school and pending adulthood, the parents race their children’s hormones to track down their daughters and put a stop to whatever licentiousness lies in store.
From prom to house party to apocalyptic hotel blow-out resembling the nightmarish tenement in Dredd, Mitchell and Lisa and a reluctant Hunter follow their kids while their kids partake in a small arsenal of intoxicants, as most prom attendees traditionally do. Kayla, especially, partakes with a vengeance, cannabis oil and DMT supplied by her date (Miles Robbins) as if one just leads naturally to the other. Viswanathan carries much of the girls’ side of the story, an easy-going foil to Cena’s heaping helping of Dad, and most scenes seem to pleasantly unfold around her. In stark contrast to its late ’90s/early-2000s forebears, Blockers doesn’t seem to care much about male sexuality, typically skipping over the details of the girls’ partners’ sexual histories to give Kayla, Kathryn and Sam control over the course of their nights.
Accordingly, everything wraps up swimmingly, for the most part, though Sam’s coming-out subplot is less about her and more about giving Hunter a quiet bid at redemption and the girls an ultimate moment of comraderie. Still, for every big rudimentary beat Blockers steps through, a weirdly dissatisfying or pointless bit follows. When Hunter cry-confesses to Mitchell and Lisa that they never once asked for his side of the story after Brenda discovered his infidelity, Mitchell and Lisa respond as they often have to Hunter, by ignoring him. His vulnerability goes unanswered. As does a scene demanding someone chug beer with their butt, no purpose to the sequence, no consequence, except to draw our middle-aged characters together and make a joke about chugging beer with one’s butt, which is a good joke replete with a mouthful of a punchline.
A first feature for screenwriters Jim and Brian Kehoe, as well as for director Kay Cannon (known mostly for the screenplays to the Pitch Perfect series), Blockers isn’t much to look at, sort of blandly arranged by cinematographer Russ T. Alsobrook, who coincidentally served as DP on Superbad, though in that case with something amounting to a sense of visual style. Cannon, to her credit, can string a scene together sensibly, demonstrating a knack in her debut for the kind of easy-going storytelling that will only get looser and weirder the more films she makes, god willing. Meanwhile, Tracy Bonham (“Mother Mother”) does movie scores now, which is great. We should be glad all these people involved are gainfully employed.
Because Blockers is very funny. It feels good to put that out there: Blockers is something an adult or child under the age of 17 with a parent and/or guardian should pay money to see. Support the movie, legally, especially if it plays at a small or second-run theater near you, which it will, because it’s refreshingly made to do so. Buy concessions, get drunk in public, suggest the same for others: Blockers pairs well with straightforward recommendation, with unadorned word-of-mouth. It moves through all the tropes and narrative arcs of its chastely nasty ilk for a solid 90 minutes, but it moves effortlessly, everyone—audience and filmmakers—genuinely on the same page, just looking out for the well-being of one another.
If the film’s direction is workmanlike and the writers’ plotting flimsy, then the better to focus on the cast. They’re a joy to watch together, everyone unironically playing unironic characters packed to the gills with backstories that go nowhere, revealing little painful, relatable details amidst all the electrocutions and butt-chugging and occasional car explosion and full close-up violent testicle squeezing. If this is what a popular sex comedy can be in 2018, something forward-thinking and empathetic and crowd-pleasing, then let the box office show it. And may John Cena be with you.
Director: Kay Cannon
Writers: Jim Kehoe, Brian Kehoe
Starring: John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, Geraldine Viswanathan, Kathryn Newton, Gideon Adlon, Gary Cole, Gina Gershon, June Diane Raphael, Hannibal Burress
Release Date: April 6, 2018
Dom Sinacola is Associate Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter.