Kay Cannon’s big-hearted comedy has no patience for sexist double-standards.
Erasing the lasting effects of decades-long misogynistic nonsense that has been spoon-fed to young men and women might be a near-impossible task in cinema. But you sometimes have to hand it to Hollywood for seeking a fresh start with revisionist attempts. Among the recent examples of these positive efforts is 2013’s massive hit Frozen, which re-imagined the classic, damsel-in-distress Disney princess by giving her agency, and redefined true love by focusing on sisterly bonds. In 2016, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising made an honest effort to, among other things, lay bare the toxic male privilege that poisons college campuses across the county and portrayed a group of smart sorority women who just wanted to have fun on their own terms. This year, Kay Cannon’s refreshingly progressive, sex-positive film Blockers arrives to proudly debunk a long-standing Hollywood lie about teenage sex for females, that was famously satirized in the contemporary classic Mean Girls, written by Tina Fey. Maybe, just maybe, you can have sex as a teenage girl if you choose to, and NOT “get pregnant and die” as a result. Imagine that!
You might have a different impression of Cannon’s film however if you watch its trailer or check out its IMDb page, and read the shortsighted plot summary that misleadingly greets the eyeballs of the film’s potential audience around the world: “Three parents try to stop their daughters from having sex on Prom night.” I certainly won’t blame you if you have thus far been put off by the film’s on-paper looks. When I first learned about the existence of Blockers myself and read about its basic premise, I admittedly cringed with disgust. Was this really happening? Did we, in the year 2018, really need a mainstream Hollywood movie in which frustratingly old-fashioned parents with age-old double standards guarded their young daughters’ oh-so-precious virginity and [cock]blocked their would-be bedfellows?
But then I thankfully watched the film and realized that Cannon’s raunchy, outrageously funny and truly big-hearted teen comedy isn’t quite about [cock]blocking (I promise, I’ll stop saying this soon.) So ignore what the studio is selling you through its promotional materials here, as Cannon’s film—an unmistakably empowering, feminist one—is not about strict parents vs. entitled males trying to take advantage of innocent young daughters. In Blockers, teenage women call all the shots on their Prom night, make decisions about their bodies themselves (as in, it’s the girls who want to have sex, not the guys) and are in charge of their respective sexual experiences throughout. And the parents, for all their sins, are treated sympathetically too. In the end, they don’t necessarily come across as irrationally backward-thinking. Blockers makes us believe the sincerity of this group of concerned adults who just want the best future for their daughters: a trio of longtime, charismatic best friends in Chicago, exceptionally brought to life by Kathryn Newton, Gideon Adlon, and Geraldine Viswanathan. The parents are played by Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena with a blend of emotional dedication and perfect comedic timing. (If you didn’t already think that Mann is a comedy genius, wait until the grand finale of Blockers.)
Lisa (Mann) is the single mother of the smart and bubbly Julie (Newton), who longs for a West Coast college and is in a loving relationship with her boyfriend. Lisa wants Julie to stay nearby for a local college and fears her daughter will be prematurely attached to her high school sweetheart if she has sex too soon. Mitchell (Cena) desperately wants his cool, athletic daughter Kayla (Viswanathan) to not give in to society’s conformist ideals of beauty. The goofy recluse Hunter (Barinholtz) on the other hand, knows that his quiet daughter Sam (Adlon) is a closeted lesbian and pledges to stop her from submitting to a mistake out of peer pressure. So when they learn about their daughters’ #SexPact2018, they decide to take matters into their own hands despite their better judgment. However, when they secretly shadow the girls to the prom, followed by various drunken after-parties through the night, they (predictably) recognize their error and leave them be.
In conveying its sex-positive stance, Blockers doesn’t exactly take a subtle route. Mitchell’s wife Marcie (Sarayu Blue) basically serves as the film’s mouthpiece to feminist ideals and the exposure of sexist double standards that collectively and insidiously obstruct young women from reaching their full potential. “If you as parents don’t empower them and allow them to control their own bodies, how do you expect the society to treat them differently,” she asks in one scene. This prescriptive nature of Blockers might register with some as lazy and preachy, but it, in fact, is exactly what makes the film essential viewing, and even revolutionary. We have a long history of Hollywood films in which awkward, Superbad high-school-aged boys are allowed to pursue sex and have fun along the way while girls repeatedly get the short end of the stick. They are either portrayed as trampy lost causes or innocent flowers that ought to be protected until their “very special” first time. For young women in mainstream cinema, teenage sex usually comes with a side of dire consequences that they might regret for the rest of their lives. (As if safe sex and contraception aren’t sensible and easily attainable options.) By clearly spelling out its agenda, Blockers leaves no ambiguous room for interpretation. Young women can be just as curious about and hungry for sex and intimacy as young men and they equally deserve to explore their desires without punishment.
In the end, this is exactly what Blockers lands on as a lesson. Julie happily goes through with her plan. Kayla decides against it. And Sam discovers her true sexual identity as a lesbian through a school crush (Ramona Young) and comes out to her loved ones. I’ll admit, I was surprised to learn that Blockers (that sometimes relies a bit too heavily on psychical comedy and alcohol-soaked clichés) was written by two men (Brian and Jim Kehoe). Then I read Lindsey Bahr’s piece on Kay Cannon (known for the Pitch Perfect franchise, as well as TV shows like 30 Rock, New Girl and Girlboss) and it all made sense: “Cannon took the script, which had only been worked on by male writers and executives when she signed on, and infused it with a more modern, sex-positive and feminist spirit,” Bahr explains. “The teenage girls were at one point indistinguishable. Cannon turned them all into distinct characters, one of whom is even questioning her sexuality. Also, the main parents who go on this crazy mission to stop their daughters were originally all dads — now one is a mom.”
After seeing Blockers, I thought the same thing that I also had after watching Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, in which a young woman is allowed to have fun, make mistakes and grow, consequence-free: “I would have loved to have this film as my ally when I was in high school.” I am glad this generation has both movies.