Comedy writer Kay Cannon honed her writing chops on “30 Rock,” “New Girl” and all three “Pitch Perfect” films. Now she’s bringing her weirdo-girly sensibility to the director’s chair, making her directorial debut on the raunchy teen sex comedy “Blockers.”
With a script by Brian and Jim Kehoe, “Blockers” is a comedy built on the premise that teens speak a different, secret language, filled with symbolic emojis and abbreviations parents just don’t understand. On a deeper level, it dives into the anxiety that overprotective parents have about their daughters growing up too fast, actualized here as a prom night sex pact. In “Blockers,” the girls do go wild, but the parents go even wilder to try and stop them.
Two trios of performers square off — in one corner, we have the up-and-coming stars Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon as Julie, Kayla and Sam, who have been best friends since kindergarten. In the other corner, we’ve got Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz as Lisa, Mitchell and Hunter, the parents thrown together by default when their kids befriended each other.
“Blockers” gets off to a bit of a rocky start. The character backstories are essentially nonexistent and their relationships are confusing. It feels forced and doesn’t find its rhythm until the prom gets underway and the parents hop into the minivan to stop the sex pact.
Although the idea of parents hysterically trying to stop their 18-year-old daughters from “losing their innocence” seems like a downright retrograde notion, “Blockers” takes care to include the counterargument that’s a far more modern approach to sexuality and gender equality. Mitchell’s wife, Marcie (Sarayu Blue) — the only seemingly sensible adult — argues their girls should be allowed to explore their sexuality on their own terms. Those moments, though essentially shoehorned in, are crucial for the film to work.
It takes a while to rev up, but “Blockers” is often laugh-out-loud funny, thanks to the cast — you just wish they all had a little more to work with. The sweet oddball Mann plays the overly-attached mom with a penchant for strangely detailed stories, and WWE star Cena fully steps into his own as a comedic actor here — and steals the show. As the straight-laced superdad, he’s often the butt of the joke (quite literally during a certain chugging contest). He leans into this dorky persona, as the hulking jock with hands the size of hubcaps who’s just a naive and earnest teddy bear.
The breakout stars of “Blockers” are easily Viswanathan and Adlon. Watching Viswanathan inhabit the self-possessed, supremely confident Kayla is like seeing Emma Stone for the first time in “Superbad.” We watch her become a movie star on screen, and the comic chemistry she shares with Cena, who plays her dad, always coaching her to be the best she can be (with a few body slams thrown in for good measure) is the best part of “Blockers.”
This raunchy teen sex comedy radically places teen girls in the driver’s seat of their own sexual agency, but it never sacrifices the dumb, weird or gross moments that make the genre what it is — be that for better or for worse.
Rated: R for crude and sexual content, and language throughout, drug content, teen partying, and some graphic nudity. Starring: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz. Director: Kay Cannon. Running time: 102 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 9, Edwards 14, Edwards 12, Majestic 18, Village Cinema.