SXSW 2018 Review: ‘Blockers’ is a Step in Sort of the Right Direction
Each year at SXSW a major studio premieres a comedy at the festival. These big comedies usually do well with the SXSW crowd, but for me, they are typically hit or miss. For the ten years that I have been coming to SXSW, I have watched some great comedies like The Disaster Artist and Spy while comedies like Sausage Party and Neighbors just didn’t work for me. For the 25th anniversary of the SXSW Film Festival, the programming team picked Blockers as their big studio comedy to premiere at the festival. Before attending the world premiere, I didn’t watch a single trailer or television spot for the film. The only thing I knew about it was the brief plot description from IMDB.
Blockers follows Lisa (Leslie Mann) an overprotective mom and Mitchell (John Cena) an overprotective father. Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) is the third father in their little group, but he isn’t overprotective but instead sort of a deadbeat dad. These three parents have been friends since their daughters started kindergarten and over the years have slowly parted ways as their daughters grew older. The three parents reunite on prom night to stop their daughters from losing their virginity.
Since the early 80s, there have been a plethora of R-rated sex comedies about teenagers trying to lose their virginity. What makes Blockers standout in comparison to so many other films with a similar plot is that there are three females at the center of this story. Sure, there have been sex comedies featuring female leads but rarely is the story told from a female perspective. Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon makes her directorial debut with this coming of age raunchy comedy that is sure to win over most fans of modern-day comedy.
I want to begin this review by pointing out the positive before I dive into the issues that I had with the film. First and foremost, I applaud Universal for giving Kay Cannon the chance to direct a female-driven sex comedy. Universal was the first major studio to open the door to for raunchy female comedies. The studio has released Bridesmaids, Trainwreck, and Girls Trip, just to name a few. By allowing Kay Cannon the opportunity to direct a comedy like this one, it is a huge step forward in the fight for female filmmakers. To my knowledge, the only other studio film that is sort of like this one is The To Do List which was written and directed by Maggie Carey.
The female-driven Blockers joins a genre that has been dominated by males for almost three decades and proves that women can be just as raunchy as their male counterparts. Instead of listening to a bunch of male adolescences discuss buying booze with fake IDs to get laid, Blockers takes on the female perspective which is refreshing to see and hear. We get to hear Julie (Kathryn Newton), Sam (Gideon Adlon) and Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) discuss their views on sex and what they want to do on prom night. They are in control of the situation, and it is rare that we have the opportunity to see this sort of thing occur in a big studio comedy.
I have to applaud Cannon and the writers for creating the character of Sam and presenting her as a real teenager who is confused with her sexuality. While this is becoming more commonplace, I still think it is important to highlight these characters because they feel very true to life. Adlon did such a great job bringing Sam to life and did so in a very subtle yet funny way. I should also take a moment to point out that newcomer Geraldine Viswanathan was the highlight of the entire cast. Viswanathan brought a ton of energy to the role, and her line-delivery was spot-on.
Moving on to the negative, Blockers as a whole is just more of the same. The raunchy humor is a bunch of crude jokes that attempt to be more raunchy than the films that have preceded it. The jokes rely very heavily on gross-out sight gags and toilet humor. There is a joke where John Cena’s character Mitchell has to chug a beer through his asshole to get into a high school party. While the SXSW audience found this scene to be hilarious, I was not amused by it at all. I was also not amused by the scene in the limo where everyone starts throwing up on each other. This type of humor is just so infantile and is not creative nor funny whatsoever.
Speaking of humor, I get that John Cena is the epitome of masculinity so on paper it might be funny to have him break down crying at specific points throughout the film but man oh man did that joke fall flat on its face in the film. Let me not forget to mention that, of course, his character is accused of being a homophobe because he doesn’t want to touch Gary Cole’s genitals as he walks naked through his home wearing a blindfold. Again, this type of humor is cheap and geared towards the lowest common denominator. These types of jokes are something that I believe a bunch of 13-year-olds would deem hilarious and somehow they have found their way into a big studio comedy.
Regarding the three adult leads, they had great chemistry with one another, but after a while, their constant bickering back and forth got rather tiresome. There are a few moments where one of them says something that will produce a laugh, but for the most part, it just sounds like a bunch of adults yelling at one another. I dislike watching adult actors behave like little kids on a playground. There is no question that Mann, Cena, and Barinholtz are having a ton of fun playing their characters but I found it hard to watch grown adults behaving more immaturely than their teenage daughters.
While five male writers were originally credited as screenwriters at SXSW, the WGA has since confirmed that Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe are the ones that wrote the screenplay. Regardless of how many writers actually wrote the film, it is still very important to note that the film was written by men. The vast majority of jokes found in this film are clearly written by men. I can’t think of a single woman that I know of who would write a joke about butt chugging. Furthermore, the script is full of cliches and is incredibly predictable. There are a series of heart-to-heart moments sprinkled throughout which not only felt forced but incredibly unrealistic. I get the whole overprotective parent thing, but please let’s not pretend that any teenager would be ok with their parent or parents stalking them all night long. The scenes where the parents talk to their daughters during a massive hotel party is beyond phony and unrealistic. There’s a certain level of suspension of disbelief one can tolerate, and these scenarios cross that line.
While I can’t recommend Blockers, I do believe the film is a step in the right direction when it comes to mainstream female-driven and directed R-Rated comedies. To be completely fair, I will admit that Blockers is just as good as the majority of male-driven sex comedies including Superbad and American Pie. That said, the film is very much your standard sex comedy filled with generic characters that are never fully developed, cheap gross-out gags and several moments of pure stupidity. I realize that a lot of people love these types of films, but they just aren’t for me. It doesn’t matter who directs or stars in these films because they do very little to stand out from the next. I’ am, however, somewhat curious how the film would have turned out if it was written by a woman or a group of women instead of guys. I don’t know how exactly how it would have been different but I do wish it was better than it turned out. So, if nothing else, Blockers is a yet another step in the sorta right direction as we as a society continue the fight for more female filmmakers and storytellers.
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel’s rating for Blockers is a 4 out of 10.