Film Forward

There's Some Progressive Messaging Below The Surface Of Silly And Fun Comedy 'Blockers'

"If the film were personified, Blockers would be a frat boy with a heart of gold."

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Title: Blockers
Director: Kay Cannon 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Brian Kehoe 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Jim Kehoe 👨🏼🇺🇸

Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸


Technical: 3.75/5

Blockers is not here to reinvent the wheel. It borrows classic, teen comedy hijinks like parental overprotectiveness, gross-out slapstick, and sex and drugs to deliver its laughs. If the film were personified, Blockers would be a frat boy with a heart of gold.

If that's the tone that director Kay Cannon — of Pitch Perfect fame — wants to strike, then she's done it. Besides some slight pacing issues and genre confusion, I really enjoyed this film. Sure, the toilet humor didn't work for me: gratuitous vomiting, butt chugging, and full-frontal dick jokes feel done to death. But when Blockers taps into its emotional core, it shines. I loved seeing flawed Gen X parents who set out to "protect" their supremely well-adjusted kids from the real world, only to learn from them instead. In this current era when teenagers can feel like the adults in the room — while their parents and grandparents have let a major financial crisis, thousands of mass shootings, and a temper tantrum of a president all happen under their watch — Blockers strikes a chord. Something about seeing young, modern women thrive despite the messy strife and insecurities that come with late adolescence simply feels timely.

Gender: 5/5
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES

Blockers hits the trifecta of what it takes to have strong female representation: numbers, depth, and positivity. By the numbers, there are multiple female characters across leading, supporting, and minor roles. On complexity, Lisa (Leslie Mann) enjoys an emotional story arc that equals that of the other two parents, Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz). And on positivity, there is so much of that flying around, whether it's the relationships between women as family, friends, or lovers, or the affectionate portraits of each of the daughters in this film: the peppy blonde Julie (Kathryn Newton), tomboy Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), or the fannish Sam (Gideon Adlon).

Each daughter has agency over her own life, up to and including the way she wants to lose her virginity. While this setup could have easily been mishandled by another director, Cannon shows her comfort level with writing smart, strong, sex-positive, and vulnerable young women. It's a joy to watch Julie, Kayla, and Sam remain each others' strongest support systems throughout this confusing and tumultuous time in their lives, as they go through senior prom and embark on the next chapter of their lives.

Race: 3.5/5

If Blockers nailed the trifecta of representation for women, it falters slightly on the same three attributes for race. Racial representation is clearly written into the film, but it simply doesn't feel like a priority.

By the numbers, all three parents, Lisa, Mitchell, and Hunter, are White. In secondary roles, Mitchell's daughter Kayla is biracial, as Mitchell is married to Marcie (Sarayu Blue, of Indian descent). Another spouse in a minor role is Frank, played by Hannibal Buress, who is Black. But notably, the most complex characters of the three main parents are all White.

Luckily, the characters of color who do exist are worked into highly positive roles. Marcie is key as the superchill, feminist Indian American who "wears the pants" of her marriage to Mitchell. Her refreshing role is noted by writer Radhika Sanghani, who says of the usual landscape of representation:

"The Indians on screens are nothing like me. They are the sari-wearing mums of Bend It Like Beckham (2002), cooking aloo ghobi as their children battle with tradition."

By writing a U.S.-born parent into Blockers rather than an immigrant one — with authentic casting, too, as Blue herself was born in Wisconsin — her daughter Kayla is never seen having to wrestle with her "Indianness." Rather, she's sporty, confident, and damned funny, allowing her to be more than just her skin color. Same goes for Buress' character, who bucks the stereotype of Black men by being ridiculously nice and kind of nerdy.

With all this in mind, it becomes jarring to see small-scale stereotyping among some of the kids' classmates. While Blockers is in no way mean-spirited, the film does take poorly executed jabs at geeks, one of whom is an Asian teenager who appears to be a Dance Dance Revolution fan with glowing shoes and a twitchy disposition. He's obsessed with breakdancing and is convinced that prom will be his moment, but he's foiled by one of the parents, Hunter, who accidentally knocks him down and breaks his front tooth. The scene is played for laughs, but the visual of having a cocksure White guy ruin the night of an Asian nerd, then shrug it off as the nerd is left wailing, simply doesn't feel funny to me.

Deduction for Body Positivity: -0.25

Speaking of errant stereotyping that somehow sneaks its way into this heartwarming film, I found the underlying fat-shaming of Chad (Jimmy Bellinger) to be retrograde. While Chad is never overtly ridiculed for his size, he nonetheless garners the ignominious role of being the guy that Sam uses to confirm her sexual preference for women. In multiple scenes, we see Sam wince or make nauseous faces after being physically close with Chad. As with the Asian breakdancer, the film is never outright mean, but still plays into longstanding tropes that feel too soon to reclaim.

Bonus for LGBTQ: +0.75

Sam enjoys a story arc that explores her sexuality, lending a fresh angle to the procession of teenage sex comedies that have tackled similar milestones such as prom, first loves, or first-times. I enjoyed watching Sam grow across the film, as she suspects, confirms, then ultimately comes out as gay. She even gets a tidy romance, and I was so close to giving Blockers a full point bonus for its inclusion. However, that storyline ends strangely abruptly, leaving a metallic taste to what was otherwise an incredibly sweet courtship.

Mediaversity Grade: B+ 4.25/5

Blockers is silly and fun from the outside, but scratch just beneath the surface and you'll find progressive messaging that empowers not just women, but men as well as they are permitted strong but "unconventional" roles. Hunter might be more traditionally masculine with his bravado, but Mitchell is a supportive and sensitive husband and father. The teenage boys, especially, are confident in themselves and completely respectful of their prom dates as the seniors all seek to party, do drugs, and have sex in modern ways where no one feels pressured or exploited.

Yes, the writing of characters of color and LGBTQ feels less natural. But overall, I had a great time watching this movie and am all about its ethos of letting younger generations lead the way into the future.

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.


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