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Dustin Putman

Blockers  (2018)
2½ Stars
Directed by Kay Cannon.
Cast: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon, Miles Robbins, Graham Phillips, Jimmy Bellinger, Ramona Young, Sarayu Blue, June Diane Raphael, Hannibal Buress, Gary Cole, Gina Gershon, Jake Picking, Colton Dunn, T.C. Carter.
2018 – 102 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for crude and sexual content, and for language, drug content and nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, April 4, 2018.
"Blockers" is 102 minutes of ribald humor, adolescent and parental rites of passage, and a side of social commentary with a welcome feminist bent. In less adept hands, it could have quickly turned exploitative, icky, mean-spirited, and interminable (think 2010's patently offensive "The Virginity Hit"). Under the more perceptive helm of debuting director Kay Cannon (screenwriter of 2012's "Pitch Perfect," 2015's "Pitch Perfect 2," 2017's "Pitch Perfect 3") and screenwriters Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe, the film smooths over its contrivances and occasional comedic misses by actually listening to, and caring about, its characters. We like spending time with them.

Prom night is upon BFFs Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon), and the trio have made a momentous pact: to lose their virginity to dates Austin (Graham Phillips), Connor (Miles Robbins) and Chad (Jimmy Bellinger) before the evening is out. When Julie's single mom Lisa (Leslie Mann), Kayla's married softy-of-a-father Mitchell (John Cena), and Sam's divorced dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) become privy to this information, it terrifies them. Setting off into the night, the three harried parents vow to track their daughters' every move, desperate to do whatever it takes to circumvent their plans.

"Blockers" is destined to earn notoriety for its raunchier moments, most notably a goofily amusing scene where one character chugs beer from, um, a place other than his mouth. Much like 1999's similar, admittedly superior "American Pie," however, it is the film's underlying heart that makes this more than a shallow dip in sex-com theatrics. The protagonists—both the adults and the teens—feel real. Lisa, who is having a tough time coming to terms with Julie's imminent move to college, and fellow parents Mitchell and Hunter still see their daughters as little girls. Learning to let go and trust their almost-grown kids are lessons they must learn, even if the getting-there is populated with inadvertent carnal games with Austin's sexually voracious parents (Gary Cole and Gina Gershon), a ridiculous car accident, and the terror of getting trapped in a hotel room with one's own child and her boyfriend. As for Julie, Kayla and Sam, each has her own reason for why she wants to go all the way, and they aren't all for the right reasons. Watching them navigate this decision while coming to terms with who they are and what sex and relationships mean to them, the viewer comes to appreciate the understanding and sympathetic hand with which these subjects are dealt.

Leslie Mann (2016's "How to Be Single") is too frequently underappreciated for her gifts as a performer of substantial range and comedic chutzpah. No matter the material, she rarely strikes a false note. As mother-at-a-crossroads Lisa, Mann is exquisite. She not only finds genuine, unforced humor even in her moments of pathos, but she also single-handedly earns the picture's biggest laugh during a set-piece where she tries to sneak out of a hotel suite without being seen. As Mitchell, who has yet to let it sink in that fun-loving daughter Kayla can stand up for herself, John Cena (2015's "Trainwreck") makes up for his limitations as an actor through sheer unassuming charisma. And as Hunter, who regrets drifting apart from Sam following his divorce, Ike Barinholtz (2017's "Snatched") gets at least one really great moment: a long-time-coming heart-to-heart with Sam that gives them both the comfort they need to move forward as a hopefully closer father and daughter.

Kathryn Newton (2012's "Paranormal Activity 4") and newcomers Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon are terrific as best friends Julie, Kayla and Sam, holding their own while developing characters who might not have been entirely three-dimensional on the page. Adlon is particularly memorable, her Sam struggling with feelings of sexual confusion and her attraction to confident, sweet-natured classmate Angelica (Ramona Young, a standout). Arriving on the heels of coming-of-age film "Love, Simon," groundbreaking in telling the story of a gay teenager within a wide-release studio feature, it is nice to so quickly see another depiction of LGBT youth in mainstream cinema handled with honesty and sensitivity.

"Blockers" doesn't exactly rewrite the rules of its subgenre, and there are times when the jokes fall flat. The aforementioned characters of Austin's kinky parents should have been either rewritten or entirely excised; Gina Gershon (2010's "Love Ranch") and a full-frontal Gary Cole (2014's "The Town That Dreaded Sundown") deserve better than these caricaturized supporting roles. There are also a few scenes which overstay their welcome, meandering when they should be zipping to the point. To be sure, "Blockers" inspires a handful of solidly funny moments, but this is the kind of comedy that does not live or die based on how many guffaws it receives from the audience. As silly and over-the-top as the proceedings often are, they are rooted in a story where the feelings of its central six characters, on the precipice of the next chapter in all their lives, ring true.
© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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