Blockers (2018)

In ‘Blockers,’ the Women Get Their Own Raunchy Sex Comedy—But They Don’t Get to Have Much Fun

And a few other thoughts about the new John Cena/Leslie Mann movie

The adjective “raunchy” will be used a lot to describe a comedy like Blockers. Whether it’s in a positive or negative connotation, everybody knows what that means: It’s a sex comedy. There will be sex in it! Or, at the very least, boobs! It’s gonna be naughty! Sex!

MEL’s John McDermott wrote last year about the decline of the traditional teen sex comedy, which used to be a staple thanks to movies like Animal House, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and even American Pie. McDermott’s theories for the genre’s fall are symptomatic of our changing world: the rise of the internet (horny kids don’t need the multiplex to see boobs); and the rise of a more enlightened, less sexist attitude in mainstream movies.

With that in mind, the new raunchy comedy Blockers should be a breath of fresh air. In it, three female high-school seniors who are best friends (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon) make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night — a development that freaks out their parents (Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena). For once, it’s not a movie about horny dudes trying to trick women into sleeping with them — in Blockers, the women get to be on the hunt.

So why is the movie not that much fun?

Because, despite women in the lead, there’s still that old condescending, puritanical attitude toward them.

Blockers’ central joke is that, even though these parents are freaking out about their precious angels having sex, the three teenagers are smart, mature people who don’t need to be rescued by their moms and dads. They’re neither prudes nor sex-crazed — the two types of characters you usually find in raunchy comedies. Rather, they’re sensitive, complicated individuals confronting hormones and encroaching adulthood.

And true to the movie’s conceit, each of the teenagers gets to experience sex firsthand — albeit with the training wheels on. When Adlon’s closeted character Sam reluctantly decides to go to bed with her male prom date, it ends up in the kind of “hilarious” sexual embarrassment we often see in movies like this. (For Sam, the real win is getting a kiss from the girl she’s been secretly crushing on for a while.) Viswanathan’s bright Kayla quickly realizes that she’s not into her date enough to go all the way — they like each other, but they’re not ready to take such a big step. As for Newton’s Julie, who has a serious boyfriend, they have sex, but off-screen in the chastest, most PG way possible. (Predictably, the movie creates a “wacky” scenario in which Julie’s mom, played by Mann, is trapped in the hotel room where they’re going to do the deed.)

All of these plot developments are imminently reasonable and relatable, but there’s also something safe about the way Blockers pretends to be “raunchy” and then validates the parents’ fears about their daughters. Sure, these teens aren’t in need of saving, but they’re also not particularly adventurous or subversive either — if anything, the movie seems to want to protect them from the crazy excesses of the typical teen sex comedy. So while Blockers recognizes that women can be more than pliable sex objects for the pleasure of the male characters — progress!!! — it still sees them as delicate little things.

A real mark of progress would’ve been if they were allowed to enjoy the sex.

Here are a few other takeaways from Blockers.

#1. Hollywood has found out about butt-chugging — six years later.

In 2012, it was one of the most popular scare-the-parents news trends: the rise of butt-chugging on college campuses. The hysteria was born out of an incident at the University of Tennessee, where a student was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning by trying an “alcohol enema.” (The student later denied that he’d been butt-chugging, although his fraternity was suspended.) As a result, there was this wave of “OMG, butt-chugging!” articles, which became the vodka eyeballing, “Why won’t anyone think of the children?!?” phenomenon of that year.

It’s pretty quaint, then, that butt-chugging becomes a central comedic set piece in Blockers, as Cena’s character takes on a student to see who can finish their beer first. Honestly, it’s crazy it’s taken this long for Hollywood to find out about the trend, although in fairness, this isn’t the first major studio movie to include butt-chugging.

That distinction, of course, belongs to 2006’s Jackass Number Two, in which Steve-O takes on the challenge. He isn’t successful.

I look forward to Blockers IV, when the franchise finally catches up with Tide Pods.

#2. No two cock-blocks are the same.

The movie’s title is a cleaned-up variation on the term cock-blocking, which apparently has been around since the 1970s. Its origins are usually attributed to Edith A. Folb, who in 1980 published Runnin’ Down Some Lines: The Language and Culture of Black Teenagers. Folb, a white woman, dropped out of a PhD program at UCLA in 1964 to study South Central African-American teenagers for almost a decade. She learned about cock-blocking somewhere along the way.

But from Folb’s early excavation, cock-blocking has now exploded, its meaning expanding as it was embraced by White America. In 2002, Yale Daily News columnist Natalie Krinsky outlined four different variations of cock-blocking, including the “hard-knock cock block,” in which “a close friend approaches YOU and spills that he really likes the girl you’re talking to. Your friendship is put to the test and you are forced to let your lady-killer skills slide.”

However, the particular breed of cock-blocking that the parents are trying to execute in Blockers is probably best laid out in a 2012 L.A. Weekly piece, “The Five Worst Kinds of Cockblocks,” which warns of “The Family Member Cockblock.” In this one, a parent or grandparent wanders into the room while you’re trying to get laid, ruining any chance you’d have of going through with sex. Even worse in this scenario, just the idea of sex may be permanently ruined for you. “Once it goes down, you have a relative and sex commingled in your mind,” says L.A. Weekly. “This is a horrible thing to deal with moving forward.”

#3. I’m still not sold on John Cena.

Cena has done some good work as an actor. The face of the WWE for better part of two decades now, Cena has tried to follow in the footsteps of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, breaking into Hollywood by balancing action roles with self-deprecating comedic performances. Comedy has been more successful for him so far, especially when he played the mocked boyfriend in 2015’s Trainwreck, where he got to laugh at himself but also show a sweet, sensitive side.

He can also be stirring, like in a 2016 “Love Has No Labels” ad campaign, which found him using his real-America appeal to advocate for a more inclusive, welcoming country that didn’t let differences in religion, ethnicity or sexual preference divide people.

But as likable as Cena is, he’s a limited actor. In Blockers, he’s Mitchell, a super-uptight dad who insists he knows best when it comes to his daughter. My friend Justin Chang over at the L.A. Times really enjoyed him in the film, writing in his review, “It takes next to nothing for Cena to be funny; the mere sight of him running around in his plaid shirt and dad shorts, as if the whole movie were taking place on Casual Lumberjack Friday, is an ever-endearing source of giggles.” I take his point — Cena’s so buff that his suburban, helicopter-parent shtick is automatically comedic — but it’s also one-note.

Of course, that could also be the fault of Blockers’s screenplay. After establishing that Mitchell is a clingy, needy person — even with his fellow parents — the movie moves away from that to make him sort of a garden-variety dumb-dumb. It’s a silly role, and Cena doesn’t have the confidence or pure star power to pull it off. Frankly, he just feels a little blocked.

This happens a lot when he’s not entirely comfortable. This past week, for example, Cena was promoting Blockers on Jimmy Kimmel, and he had to do this forced bit where he engaged in a phony war of words with Johnson, his former WWE rival. God, was it awkward…

The Rock was pretty wooden when he started out, gradually gaining more experience and ease in front of a movie camera. So Cena could still get there. But Blockers shows how far he’s still got to go.