The new film Blockers — as in you-know-what-blockers — is a raunchy teen sex comedy with a sweet feminist core. But just like its title, with the implied but omitted dirty word, the film hints at a progressive worldview yet stops just short of delivering all the goods. Blockers, directed by Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon in her directorial debut, follows the story of three best friends, Julie, Kayla and Sam (played by Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon, respectively), who all vow to have sex for the first time on prom night.
There’s no shortage of teen movies about the quest to lose your virginity, a fact Blockers slyly references when one of the characters acknowledges that prom-night sex is so corny. But most of the other films in that canon are about boys — American Pie, Superbad, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Can’t Hardly Wait. There are far fewer films that put girls in the driver’s seat (though the excellent 2010 film Easy A does come to mind).
Still, there’s something that feels revelatory about Blockers letting the girls’ desires drive the story, and hearing the female characters talk about candles that make them horny or exclaiming “my pussy” in the same tone affected by male characters when talking about their own junk is a treat. And that hasn’t gone unnoticed, as Blockers has been earning praise as a feminist film. Critics have called it a “feminist twist to the prom sex comedy,” a “no-holds-barred comedy with a cleverly feminist twist” and a “good time with a positive feminist message.”
In the film’s story, the impediment to the girls’ prom night “sex pact” is their respective parents — Lisa, Mitchell and Hunter, played by Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz, respectively. The parents decode a text conversation between their daughters and figure out their plans. Despite their repeated avowals that young women should be sexually empowered, Lisa and Mitchell set out to stop their daughters from having sex, while Hunter tags along for reasons of his own.
The film is careful to assure us that the parents are acting not out of a prudish or conservative desire to protect their daughters’ virtues, but from an urge to prolong their childhoods and keep them from moving too quickly into adult independence.
Cena’s character, Mitchell, is the one who most strays into the caricature of an overprotective father guarding his daughter’s virginity. That earns him an educational lecture from his feminist wife, Marcie (played by Sarayu Blue) — and later his daughter — about why women should be trusted to make their own choices about their bodies.
That strain of progressiveness carries through the whole film. Hunter repeatedly asserts that teenage girls having sex is natural, as normal as a “bee fucking a flower,” he says at one point. The characters vaguely allude to going to marches and the double standards that exist for boys and girls. The teenage boys come across as kind and considerate when it comes to sex, less horndog-ish than the three young women. There’s also the diversity in the casting: Unlike John Hughes’ all-white versions of the Chicago suburbs, Blockers, set in the same locale, includes black and brown characters in both its main and supporting casts.
And one girl in the main trio is a lesbian. Her queerness is established early in the film, and thankfully, she’s not the one with the obviously tomboyish personality. And her storyline, as she dutifully tries to give sex with men the ol’ college try while secretly making eyes at another girl in their grade, is a sweet journey.
Like other films in its genre, Blockers has its shared of over-the-top raunchy moments, including a “butt-chugging” scene, a puke-filled car chase and some full-frontal male nudity when the trio of parents accidentally stumbles into another couple’s role-playing scenario. But when it comes to getting explicit about its feminist message, the movie seems to hold back.
Despite all the talk about female sexual empowerment, when the film finally gets around to the actual sex, we only hear about it after the fact, once the characters are fully clothed again. The film backs away from showing or even explicitly discussing the characters’ sexual pleasure.
Although we get to see the queer character in a lovely coming-out moment with her father (who already knew she was gay), she’s given short shrift by the end of the movie. She’s not out to her two best friends, the girls she’s known since childhood, for most of the film — but when she finally gets up the courage to tell them she’s gay, it strangely happens in an inaudible whisper. The girls quietly bow their heads together before the two hastily assure their friend they’ll love her no matter what before dancing away so she can kiss her crush before the credits roll.
Blockers’ view of the world — where high school kids are kind to each other and surprisingly well-adjusted, where smart girls take their sexuality into their own hands — is a comforting one. But a movie that devotes an entire scene to Mann and Barinholtz urging Cena to loosen his asshole to allow a funnel in shouldn’t shy away from devoting some screentime to the things it insists actually matter.