‘Blockers’ gives teen sex comedies gender-swap spin

Actor and wrestler John Cena - here with his wrestler friend Nikki Bella -- is one of three parents who stumble upon their daughters' pact to lose their virginity on prom night in 'Blockers'
AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) – The raunchy bro comedy, with its high school jocks, nerdy virgins and busty cheerleaders, was once guaranteed box office gold — but the trope has become an anachronism in post-Weinstein Hollywood.  

A riotous new movie featuring a group of empowered girls, rather than the usual clique of sex-starved boys, is proving that you can do gross-out teen sex romps without homophobia or misogyny.

“Blockers,” the directorial debut of three-time Emmy nominee Kay Cannon, who wrote the “Pitch Perfect” movies, tells the story of three parents who stumble upon their daughters’ pact to lose their virginity at prom.

The aggressively protective friends — Leslie Mann (“The Other Woman,” “This Is 40”), Ike Barinholtz (“Neighbors,” “Suicide Squad”) and John Cena (“Trainwreck,” “Sisters”) — launch a covert operation to stop the teens from sealing the deal.

“We’ve had R-rated raunchy sex comedies before, but it’s never really been from this female perspective, with three young women at the forefront and Kay Cannon behind the camera,” said Geraldine Viswanathan, who plays Kayla, the daughter of Cena’s hapless dad Mitchell.

“It couldn’t be better timing. It’s really exciting and I’m so proud to be part of a movie that’s funny and that I think so many people will enjoy, but that also has a lot of heart and is very reflective of now.”

The newcomer, who was speaking at the Los Angeles premiere on Tuesday, teams up with Kathryn Newton — last seen as the murdered daughter in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” — and Gideon Adlon, who play her best friends Julie and Sam.

– ‘Something very timely’ –

Adlon said that although the film was made before the emergence of the #MeToo and Time’s Up women’s equality campaigns, she felt it was “pretty special” to be in a film reflecting the zeitgeist.

“Three young women making their own decisions about their bodies and what they want to do with their bodies, not what the men want… how much more timely could you get with that, coming out now?” she said.

“And then it also touches on LGBTQ and a biracial family in the film. So you’ve got everything in there, and we’re normalizing it.” 

Written by brothers Brian and Jim Kehoe, “Blockers” has understandably been pigeonholed as “‘American Pie’ meets ‘Bridesmaids’” but you could also throw in elements of “Road Trip,” “Superbad” and even early 80s cult hit “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

Quite how much gender-equity kudos can be handed to a movie written and largely produced by men is up for debate but, crew aside, a girl-centric teen comedy that respects its female characters remains a genuine novelty.

“There’s something very timely about ‘Blockers.’ Against the backdrop of #MeToo and Time’s Up, the movie celebrates its female characters’ desires,” said showbiz magazine Variety.

“More often than not, prom comedies are driven by what the boys want.”

Reviews have been effusive, yielding a 89 percent “Fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes. The $21 million production is expected to open in the region of $18 million, for a $69 million-plus overall domestic haul.

– Embarrassing dads –

Its biggest competition, and the likely box office leader over the weekend, is the horror movie “A Quiet Place,” directed by and starring John Krasinski opposite his real-life wife Emily Blunt. 

Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” which topped the North American box office on its debut last weekend, should also be in the mix.  

Unlike that family-friendly adventure, “Blockers” is very far from the kind of movie the average parent would want their young teen daughter to see.

The Judd Apatow-esque romp is as ribald as any of its male-starring predecessors and the anatomical jokes will have parents squirming in vicarious discomfiture.

Taking its cue from embarrassing dad Noah Levenstein (Eugene Levy) in “American Pie” (1999), the movie is as much a coming-of-middle-age story about the parents learning to trust their kids as it is a teen movie.

“It’s always good when you think you’ve got something funny and people take away much more than laughs from it. It’s a movie for adults and young adults, and I think with that comes tackling the subject matter a certain way,” said Cena.

“It’s a new perspective and a different one and it’s just about time, and I think audiences agree.”

“Blockers” debuted in March to raucous acclaim at Austin’s South by Southwest festival, where many of the jokes were drowned out by gales of laughter and uproarious applause.

“What Telluride is to boring movies, South by Southwest is to comedies. It’s fantastic,” Seth Rogen, who co-produced the movie, said at Tuesday’s premiere.

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