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‘Blockers’ Challenges the Way Culture Views Sex

‘Blockers’ Challenges the Way Culture Views Sex

Friday saw the release of Blockers, a hard-R comedy about a group of high-school girls (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon) who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night, and their parents’ (Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz) ensuing plan to stop them. Blockers has a lot to say about gender—it notably flips the traditional male/female comedy roles—and it centers on inherent topics like maturation, sex and purity.

It’s a lot for one person to consider, so RELEVANT called upon ace contributors Abby Olcese and Jon Negroni, then looped in senior writer Tyler Daswick to examine the movie’s themes and figure out if there’s anything here aside from dirty jokes.

Tyler Daswick: I think it’s worth saying that Blockers isn’t a movie we would normally cover in RELEVANT. It’s super raunchy, and its premise is pretty dubious, but to be honest, I was laughing the entire time. Did y’all have any expectations going into this one?

Abby Olcese: I set my expectations pretty low: a lot of gross-out jokes, not much character development, and the occasional line that made me laugh, but also made me feel bad for laughing.

Jon Negroni: Yeah, vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity strikes me as uninteresting, but raunchy comedies are compelling when they treat their flawed characters like human beings we can observe and understand. My hope was Blockers would explore the “why” behind a parent’s fear of their kid losing their virginity.

Das: That premise actually drew me to Blockers in the first place—it’s funny! It opens the door for some complicated topics, too, but I wonder if we stayed in the shallow end of the pool. I can’t really land on any clear ideas.

Jon: This movie had a specific, uncompromising message about parenthood and sexual awakenings. Basically, “let kids be kids,” but that’s nothing new. While it’s refreshing to see a movie like this star female teenagers and be directed by a woman (Kay Cannon), I don’t think it gave its stars time to develop. The movie positions the kids’ story as significant, but doesn’t really back that up on the screen.

Abby: Weird, because I was actually really impressed with Blockers. In a lot of sex comedies, everyone’s attitude toward sex is the same: teenagers pursue it aggressively and parents are oblivious bystanders. But in Blockers, each character has a different opinion about sex they have to address over the course of the movie. The girls go to prom expecting the typical sexual experience pop culture has taught them to want, but they end up finding out the real thing is different for each of them. 

Das: My brain’s with you, Jon—the movie might be more focused on teaching the parents not to be psychos than illustrating an encompassing view of sex for the teenage women—but my heart’s with you, Abby. There’s something about the kids learning through experience that really appeals to me. I appreciate when comedies lend young people a lot of wisdom. You can disagree with what the girls in Blockers are up to, sure, but they’re empowered to grow via their own evaluation of the world, and that communicates something positive. It reminds me of Superbad in that way: Young people can be their own teachers.

Abby: Totally, and speaking of Superbad, I thought it was interesting the girls were the sexually-aggressive parties here, since in most movies like this, the male characters are the ones chasing sex. I think that approach gave the girls agency, and let them dictate the terms of their sexual interactions.

Jon: I remember Superbad came out when I was 17, and it challenged a lot of my preconceptions on how friendship changes after high school. It makes me wonder what teenagers might get out of Blockers that I never could.

Abby: It was refreshing the movie de-glorified sex, showing the girls it’s not the monolithic thing they think it is, and that, crucially, their sexual experiences or orientations don’t define their relationships with each other. Their shared experience is what really matters.

Jon: I did find Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) interesting. She didn’t seem to care about losing her virginity to someone she barely knows (another way these movies typically frame young men), and there’s a point when she asks her father (John Cena) why society makes such a big deal out of virginity in the first place.

Das: I loved that scene. Kayla’s question—”Why’s sex such a big deal, anyway?”—contains so much about life and the world. Dang, man. Makes you think.

Jon: Yeah, it had plenty of potential, but I found the writing to actually be a bit of a misfire. The opportunity was there for John Cena, and Blockers as a whole, to say something insightful about Kayla’s question, but instead, we’re given another joke and we move on.

Das: Unfortunately, I think I agree. John Cena kind of shrugs off the question (what were we expecting from John Cena, anyway?), but I wonder if that moment can still serve as a thesis statement for the movie. It struck me as something that critiques the idolization of sex in pop culture as a whole. I feel like 2018 finds us pursuing sexual maturity on obsessive levels, even if we’re still trying to grasp the definition of sexual maturity in the first place.

Abby: That’s where the parents came in for me. Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (Cena), and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) each profess to be open-minded people, but when it comes to their daughters’ sexuality, they still have hang-ups they need to address. Lisa’s over-involvement comes from her fear that Julie will repeat her own mistakes. Mitchell still wants to feel like a protector even though Kayla’s about to move out. Hunter worries Sam will be pressured into something that’s not right for her. The parents have to accept their daughters’ autonomy, and even though the antics are ridiculous, the movie shows a lot of empathy in that journey.

Jon: I don’t know; it just didn’t urge me to think beyond surface-level bullet points. I didn’t expect Blockers to hand me a movie that syncs perfectly with my worldview, but I thought there was a missed opportunity to talk about these ideas—failing your children, losing your innocence, even the different ways parents handle sons versus daughters—with more depth than it did.

Abby: Funnily enough, I think the movie might actually open up a helpful dialogue about sex for teenage girls and their parents, and I think it takes away the pressure pop culture has built up around sex over the years. There’s a lot of truth here, and it’s delivered in a fun way.

Das: Agreed. At best, Blockers is a thought-provoking good time. At worst, it’s almost too much to stomach. Kind of like a real prom night.

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