Saturday, 5 May 2018

Movie Review: Blockers (2018)


The plot: On the eve of their senior prom, Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) make a pact that they will each lose their virginity on the night of the prom. However, Julie's mother Lisa (Leslie Mann), Kayla's father Mitchell (John Cena) and Sam's father Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) discover the pact and set out to stop their daughters from making a terrible mistake. But as the night carries on, they start to question who is truly making the terrible mistake in this situation: Their children or themselves.

Cena has become more meme than flesh-and-blood human, to the point of regularly being met in the screenings I attend with a hearty vocal blaring of his entrance theme from at least one chucklehead in the audience. I have grown a certain quiet dread of seeing this guy on the big screen as a result of that, but at the same time, the man knows how to channel that ring-side charisma to the world of cinema and this is no exception. Basically embodying all things worryingly masculine in the parental mindset, his aptitude with physical humour and butt-chugging is matched by his misguided but ultimately concerned care for his daughter, letting the audience sympathize on a certain level and laugh at his impudence on another. Same goes for Mann as the feminine side of that coin, taking well-meaning worry about her daughter repeating her own youthful mistakes and steering it down some very low-key dark territory, all without letting the humour in her dialogue weigh it down at any point. Barinholtz is straight-up amazing in this thing as the frequently-ignored voice of reason, not only serving as a relatively-sane middle ground between his co-stars, but absolutely nailing the more emotional moments. His character makes mistakes too, same as the others, but he definitely has a better handle on how to treat these situations than the other two.

Newton works very well here, with her and Graham Phillips making for the kind of insanely cute couple that helps highlight that maybe romance isn’t quite as dead as we think. Viswanathan definitely feels like the offspring of Cena in how forthright and in-control she comes across, and her handling of the character makes her place in the central trio feel like it has a distinct purpose. But honestly, out of everyone here, the true highlight is Adlon as Sam. Not only does she represent a very different kind of romance, one guided by a near-literal lesbian superhero (man, Ramona Young can really rock that cape), but the way it is handled by her words and her delivery makes it feel authentic. This is furthered by her scenes next to Barinholtz, which range from “Dad, you’re embarrassing me” to easily the most heart-squeezing moments of the entire film. I can only hope that representation this solid means that we’ll get more Hunters in the world than Mitchells.

This is a fairly familiar premise, particularly for those like myself who grew up in the early 2000’s: A group of high school teens decide to lose their virginity before they graduate, likening their introduction to sex as an important step into adulthood. Hell, this is especially familiar coming from a studio like Point Grey Pictures, as Seth Rogen’s work on Superbad is what helped put him on the map and that film also follows this same idea. However, this is a decidedly different take on that idea of teenagers treating sex like a big deal that needs to be undertaken. Under the direction of Kay Cannon, in her directorial debut after making her mark as the scribe of the Pitch Perfect trilogy, the narrative initially presents a stark contrast between how this scenario is dealt with concerning male and female characters. In most sex comedies of this nature, men get pushed forward to achieve that goal, seeing it as part of their nature and something that they should embrace. Put the focus on women, and all of a sudden, that same aptitude for healthy sexual experiences evaporates. What is left over is a lot of mollycoddling and acting like sex is something a woman should shy away from, be ashamed for taking part in, or both.

However, this idea is presented with a very clear intent to prove it wrong. Buried underneath the overall-decent sense of humour at work here is the mentality that Lisa and Mitchell are very much in the wrong in how they initiate the plot. Well, not so much in the wrong as letting their natural parental instincts get the better of them. The traditional mindset of the caregiver is basically giving up one’s own identity for the sake of bringing another into fruition; their children become their life, and when it comes time for those now-grown children to make their own mark, it can feel like part of themselves is leaving with them. More so than a coming-of-age story for the teens, it’s a coming-of-age story for the adults, making them re-assess their values and how much worth they put into their mission of nurturing and protecting their offspring. Rather than using their individual life experiences to learn from their mistakes, they only worry about their children repeating them to the point of veering them towards making all-new mistakes. A lot of this is brought to the foreground when Lisa, Mitchell and Hunter run into Mitchell’s wife Marcie, who then proceeds to lay down some cold brick knowledge on these people about just how hypocritical this whole idea is. I swear, Sarayu Blue needs to get more work after this, because the cinematic landscape of today could use more of this kind of fiery and righteous feminism on the big screen.

This all ties into the film’s view of sex as a whole, with the dialogue making some very solid points across the board about how society tends to treat the act of sex and how much tweaking needs to be undertaken. The attitude that this film seeks to make an example of, one that makes people insist on taking a perverse interest in the private actions of others, is the kind of thing that can have very negative consequences in the real world. Consequences like taking someone like Sam, a young woman still discovering her own sexual identity, and trying to make her conform to what the rest of the world expects her to be like… even if that comes pre-packaged with the same hypocrisy regarding her sexuality in all its forms. Between the main three girls, we get some nice variety as far as depictions of real-world sexual mindsets. Some know what they want and go after it, some come to the realisation that they just aren’t ready yet, and some realise that their own tastes differ from what people consider the ‘norm’. And all three of them are perfectly natural. It treats sexuality, particularly female sexuality, with an incredible amount of respect and care, highlighting it as a normal part of human psychology and not something that needs to be vilified or feared over. It’s progressive in a way that shows real merit and even a degree of real-world application; this is what feminism really looks like.

All in all, this marks another home run for Point Grey Pictures and a very commendable directorial debut for Kay Cannon. The acting is very good, with the parents getting plenty of laughs out of their misguided actions and the teens getting a lot of empathy from how much they just want to live their own lives, the comedy occasionally lands into cringe territory but ends up paying off more times than not, and the overall approach to questions of sexuality and parenthood show real clarity and a definite want to address some rather unfortunate mindsets that still persist today. Knowing that comedy always involves someone or something being the butt of the joke, I have real respect for this film making the attempts to restrain the female libido into that butt.

It ranks higher than Lady Bird, as this film’s more madcap approach to the story of feminine coming-of-age ends up unearthing more reality than that film’s endlessly natural style. Lady Bird made some good points, but Blockers ends up making necessary points, ones that really shouldn’t need to be made but unfortunately do. However, as much as I adore this film for its intent and its efficacy, it still doesn’t deliver as much on the emotionality as The Mercy, a truly heart-breaking film that delves into far more personal and depressing societal views and exposes the darkness within them. Although, in all fairness, Ike Barinholtz and Gideon Adlon’s scenes together get pretty damn close to that level of feels.

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