374. Blockers

★★★½

“Blockers” masterfully dismantles teen sex comedy tropes while simultaneously embracing them with glee. With a deft script that’s jam-packed with set-ups, pay-offs and callbacks, “Blockers” looks better in the storytelling prom group of  “Back to the Future” and “Paddington 2” than “Clueless” and “Pretty in Pink.” The humor may be juvenile, but “Blocker’s” courage to combat social and sexual norms reflects a profound maturity that few other comedies share.

Historically, moviegoers would proudly cheer from the bleachers as Jim and his “American Pie” friends ran towards the post-coital home plate. But when the girls from “Blockers” show up, announcing that it’s their turn to score, umpires call a ground-rule double standard and ban them from the ballpark all-together. “Blockers” is a modern movie but its driving theme is a tale as old as time, that mystical, immortal untruth that there’s something wrong with women enjoying sex.

“Blockers” wastes no time in establishing this theme. The opening scene features the loving mom Lisa (Leslie Mann) as she video records her elementary-aged daughter Julie on her first day of school. The clearly nervous Julie is the focus of the shot, but we’re watching it from the perspective Lisa’s camera, establishing that Julie isn’t so much a independent person but a helpless object that needs to be endlessly loved and adored by mom. Lisa tries to reassure her everything will be fine, but it’s only until Sam and Kayla show up, asking to be friends that Julie finally cracks a smile. Already things are clear, Julie doesn’t need Lisa as much as Lisa needs her.

In this scene, we also meet Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), the men who will become Lisa’s parental compadres throughout the movie. Mitchell’s caring but imposing physicality proves that the heart is the body’s strongest muscle. His love for his daughter Kayla is infectious, the only thing more porous is his rage towards anyone who wrongs her. Hunter, though, is an outcast in the parental community after parting ways with his wife, an event that also ruptured his relationship with his daughter Sam.

The three are randomly reunited when the girls get ready for prom. Julie (Kathryn Newton) wants to lose her virginity to her 6-month boyfriend Austin (Graham Phillips). Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) wants to lose hers to her chemistry classmate Connor (Miles Robbins), and Sam (Gideon Adlon) initially says she does, but is later consumed by urges pointing her in a different direction. Lisa, Mitchell and Hunter find out about the girls’ plans and conspire to stop their copulation.

As operation cockblock commences, we’re barraged with witty jokes and snappy dialogue, the movie always efficient in its dispersal of hard-hitting humor. The girls grow more exponentially likable as the film progresses, while the parents constantly sink to new lows to stop their kids from hooking up. Hunter and Mitchell’s wife Marcie are totally right when they ask “what’s the big deal about the girls losing their virginity?” Lisa and Mitchell don’t have a good answer, their ability to reason trumped by their primal instinct to protect their cubs.

Lisa and Mitchell are honest, well-crafted characters, a king and queen of suburbia who feel they are nothing without their 17-year-old heirs. The girls are also refreshingly realistic: while Julie has a “Sixteen Candles” poster on her wall, she refuses to be a downtrodden debutante constantly pining for the popular boy. Sara though is particularly exemplary, not because of how the importance of having a character with gay feelings in movies like “Blockers,” but the fact that her inclusion feels totally normal.

Even though Mitchell chugs a beer from his own asshole at one point, Hunter is deemed the perennial butt of the joke throughout “Blockers.” He’s depicted as something of a wannabe sleaze, an absentee dad who was actually present but nobody bothered to notice him. He’s the most interesting person in the movie but also the weakest part of “Blockers,” a character who would be more compelling if he was written a little bit better or a little bit worse and wasn’t just waiting on the fence.

The movie is confidently directed by Kay Cannon, her timing and frame placement evoking a feel reminiscent to “Knocked Up” and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” Writers Brian and Jim Kehoe dodge teen movie cliches and end up making something that feels wholly original and new. “Blockers” won’t make you feel nostalgic for your teen years, but will energize adult viewers with a newfound enthusiasm for their middle years, that adventures and lifelong friendships are as ripe for plucking at 47 as much as they are at seventeen.

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