One can only hope word of mouth will provide some assistance to 🐓 Blockers, because, inexplicably, the marketing for this film isn't doing it many favors. If you saw the trailer, you might understandably think it looks like another cornball teen comedy just like countless that came before it, and why bother? That's certainly how I responded at first, until I started paying attention to surprisingly good buzz as its release date neared.
On the other hand, the current audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is all of 57% of viewers liking it. What the hell? Okay, how about on MetaCritic? 6.8 out of ten average user score is a little better, I guess. I don't often mention these things, except that word of mouth is the best chance this surprisingly funny and sincere movie has going for it. Fully understanding that critical consensus rarely moves most movie-goers the way it does me, 83% and 69 ratings on the two aggregate sites, respectively, is actually quite fair.
A quick look at the user reviews -- always a mistake, honestly -- confirms some of my suspicions: the people who hate it have no understanding of nuance, give the lowest possible ratings and thereby lower the average, and are "offended" by so-called "leftist propaganda." Jesus Christ, lighten up!
If you want to call this "leftist propaganda," so be it. It's insane how many people think of "feminist" as a fatal flaw, but I do not: 🐓 Blockers is feminist by default, without ever being preachy or positioning itself as a "message" movie. It's a teen sex comedy for the 21st century, truly progressive and -- gasp! -- actually sex positive. Ironically, hardly any sex actually happens -- in sharp contrast to all those sex comedies from the eighties and nineties with wall-to-wall sex in them, much of their content deeply sexist.
The premise is admittedly hokey, the kind of thing that keeps movie snobs from seeing "dumb Hollywood movies." But give it a chance and it might just surprise you. Three best friends, Julie, Kayla and Sam (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon, all of them great) have all made a "sex pact," to lose their virginities on Prom Night. Julie is set on doing the deed with her sweet boyfriend of six months; Kayla up and decides, basically, why not? -- and sets her sights on her stoner Chemistry class lab partner. Sam makes the choice just to be a team player, and finds a lovable doofus of a guy for herself, even though she's actually a closeted lesbian.
This is just one aspect of many where the script, the most delightful surprise of this movie, must be commended. Written by brothers Brian and Jim Kehoe, with a bit of steering with the female perspective of director Kay Cannon (she was the one to say Kayla needed to state she wanted to have sex before drinking alcohol, as otherwise it's not consensual), something as potentially hacky as a "sex pact" gets presented with believable realism and sincerity.
And the kids are just half the equation. The "cock blockers" of the title (and that title -- calling it just Blockers with a 🐓 above the word on posters is awkward at best) are three of the kids' parents: This Is Forty's Leslie Mann as Julie's fawning single mother, Lisa; John Cena as Mitchell, Kayla's lovable crybaby of a dad; and The Mindy Project's Ike Barinholtz as Hunter, Sam's distant divorcée father.
In lesser hands, the rest of the parents would be reduced to afterthoughts, but even with pretty small parts, they are given plenty of dimension, and even some humor. Although we never do meet Julie's apparently not-in-the-picture dad, we do meet Kayla's mom (and Mitchell's wife -- who does get some lines that are pretty sternly feminist -- played by Sarayu Blue), as well as Sam's mother (June Diane Raphael) and stepfather (Hannibal Buress, who doesn't get to be as funny as he could be, but makes the most of it anyway). The trio of Lisa, Mitchell and Hunter wind up teaming up together when Lisa gets wind of the "sex pact." Lisa is convinced Julie will make a mistake of the same magnitude she made at the same age, and Mitchell is too deluded by his protectiveness to realize Kayla can protect herself. Hunter, to his credit, starts off believing they should all stay out of it, but gets involved when he realizes Sam may do something she doesn't want to do with a boy, when he knows better than Sam does that she's gay.
The thing is, even though people -- okay, really just the grown-ups -- make a lot of stupid mistakes, none of the characters in 🐓 Blockers are stupid people. The kids have all been raised well. They're well put together and have a sense of sophistication and maturity increasingly becoming clear of real-life kids these days but rarely depicted onscreen. The grown-ups can be bone-headed but out of sincere love more than typical parental oppression.
So, given the astonishing number of things 🐓 Blockers does right, is it funny? Yes, it is! The laughs are rarely especially hard-hitting, but they are consistent and satisfying. It does make the always-unfortunate assumption that any R-rated comedy must include gross-out gags, from a sequence involving "butt chugging" beer (admittedly amusing, but a rare case of relatively lazy, easy laughs) to a whole lot of puking in a limo. That said, the uber-sex-positive parents of Julie's date (Gary Cole and Gina Gershon) appear for a pretty great sequence involving a sort of "Marco Polo" nude sex game using blindfolds.
Kay Cannon flips the script of typical teen sex comedies in a whole lot of ways, not least of which a couple of full frontal shots with a male actor, and none with the women. The women in girls are treated with a respect in 🐓 Blockers almost never seen in the movies, and especially in comedies. If nothing else, this proves a whole bunch of effective jokes can be made about women without degrading them.
Okay, I guess this whole review is my own "leftist propaganda." I can only hope it works.