Blockers (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Somewhere in the middle of the only occasionally funny but consistently superficial “Blockers,” I began to wonder why the sub-genre of teen sex comedy exists and why nearly every year we must get some iteration of parents desperately wishing to protect their teenagers, most often girls, from losing their virginity. I think it is because, as Americans, we have been conditioned to fear sex, including the expression of sexual desires, and thus comedy must be born from that fear in order to make the subject more tolerable, less taboo. Maybe it is due to the fact that our generation, and our parents before that and so on, receive sex education, if at all, so late in life and therefore some level of shame becomes ingrained in the subject which then permeates through our culture. And yet perhaps I was looking into it more than I should at the time—because the work in front of me never rises above mediocrity.

It is unfortunate that the picture isn’t strong because the parents who agree to sabotage their daughters’ sex pact (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon) during prom night deliver amusing performances. It is wonderful to see Leslie Mann take the lead rather than playing another supporting role in a mainstream comedy because she has a manner of delivering generic lines in a way that is interesting and full of manic energy. She is often a bright spot is deathly unfunny movies. Ike Barinholtz, too, shares some of these qualities but I wished the character had been written with more danger to him because the performer’s former roles have shown he is more than capable.

But it is John Cena, a wrestler-turned-actor, who steals the spotlight in every other scene. His domineering presence is a great contrast against a rather sensitive father who is not afraid to cry in front of his daughter. But more that what is written on the script, Cena evokes a willingness to try whatever is necessary to wring laughter from the audience. The desire to make people laugh no matter what the cost is one of the reasons why WWE’s The Rock became Hollywood’s Dwayne Johnson. I hope that Cena takes on more roles like this, including wildly different ones, without losing an ounce of that infectious energy and likability.

But the compliments stop there. The screenplay is prone to wildly schizophrenic tonal shifts. While there are individual scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny, this level of comedy is not consistent all the way through. There is only one of these every twenty minutes, two if we’re lucky, which is not enough when the audience is tasked to endure painfully forced and repetitive scenarios that we have all seen from previous prom night comedies. They reveal nothing, let alone information that is moving or profound, about youths of today with respect to the thesis that is the ridiculous deification of one’s first complete sexual experience.

The material is not above sentimentality either. The inevitable conversation between parent and child that takes place at the end of the night after the would-be riotous misadventures are plagued with the usual beats coupled with a cloying soundtrack. Listen closely and notice that these exchanges do not genuinely tackle the issues at hand. For instance, the thoughts and feelings parents have when it is time to let their child leave the nest and the latter’s struggle to claim early steps toward independence. It gives the impression that the writing by Brian and Jim Kehoe is afraid to touch the real issues. Words are used but the exchanges which supposedly elevate the relationship between parent and child hold little meaning, if any. The parent-teen connection comes across as a sham, a manipulation.

“Blockers,” directed by Kay Cannon, offers neither enlightenment nor a convincing center that might inspire conversations between parent and child. I argue that this is all right. However, it is also a comedy that is only marginally and inconsistently funny—traits that cannot be so easily overlooked. Observe that at its most desperate, it changes gears suddenly and turns into a most uninspired slapstick comedy. The confused screenplay requires significant adjustments.

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