American adolescence has been turned into a moving target by Hollywood in recent decades, thanks to the rise of the R-rated comedy about adults who’ve never grown up.
Blame the Ap(atow) Pack, the “Hangover” binge-athons or that Judeo-Canadian vulgarian Seth Rogen, but movies have normalized the kind of sophomoric body-abuse/sexual escapades and immaturity of “Knocked-Up” and “Forty Year Old Virgin,” films which pushed the R-rated edge over the edge even as they paused, here and there, for little dollops of sentimentality.
So arrives “Blockers,” the movie with the title Rogen (he produced) and Company couldn’t get into TV ads, etc. “Cock Blockers” is the expression, and that’s just what the parents of three teenage girls vow to become when they learn of their daughters’ “#sexpact” for prom night. The BFFs want to get busy, with whatever boy happens to be their date for the big night. Their parents want to “save them” from this mistake that passes for a rite of passage.
Clingy “cool mom” Lisa (Leslie Mann at her fluttery flaky best) wants her kid to avoid the “mistake” she made, saddling herself to that first love that derailed her future 18 years ago. Hovering Superdad Mitch (John Cena, laying it all out there) is fretting that the kid he’s taught sports and turned into an over-achiever is about to lose her virginity to some dork with a “man bun” and a smirk.
And then there’s Hunter (Ike Barinholtz of “The Disaster Artist” and “The Mindy Project”). He’s the “You guys wanna grab a drink?” divorced absentee dad and odd-man out, the one who rented the girls and their dates a limo, the seemingly least responsible “adult in the room” and the one who is not cool with the other two’s plans to intervene.
Yeah, he was the one hip enough to translate the dirty emojis the teens are texting back and forth. That doesn’t mean he’s OK with the adults ruining “the most magical night” of their kids’ lives.
We’ve seen a tearful montage of home movies — first day of school, field trips, honors — all the little victories and moments that parents and kids got to bond over. Now Mitch is appalled at his daughter’s “stripper underwear,” Lisa is empty nesting her way out of her connection to hers and Hunter can’t even compete with his ex’s cooler new husband (Hannibal Buress) in the eyes of his “little girl.”
Over the course of one harried, wild baccanale of a prom night, the adult trio chases the teen trio around Chicago, John Hughes comedy style — with full frontal nudity, “butt chugging,” sex games and general sneakiness. And that’s from the adults.
The film does a good job of rounding out the girls, too, from assertive, brassy Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) who isn’t the sentimental mush her dad Mitch is. No, she’s a woman who gets what she wants just like her feminist mom (Sarayu Blue). Julie (Kathryn Newton) is ready to cut Mother Lisa’s apron strings, but doesn’t want to break mom’s heart in the process. And Sam (Gideon Adlon) would love to get through the night without peer pressure sex or being humiliated by Hunter, the dad who tries too hard.
Julie is the #sexpact ring-leader, and she’s got this rose-petal covered bed, “Walgreens candle” fantasy for her “first time.”
“I saw this in a romantic comedy — ‘American Beauty.'”
“Didya watch it ALL the way through?”
The big set pieces are a vomit-off in the limo, a slapstick slap fight amongst the adults in Lisa’s SUV and assorted failed efforts by the adults to “pass” for someone who isn’t a parent or a Narc, but just another kid out for good times in a riotous teen orgy in a downtown hotel, or a beer bust at “the lake house.”
“Untuck your shirt. You look like a youth minister!”
“Pitch Perfect” writer turned first-time director Kay Cannon makes some of these big moments pay off, and delivers the sweetest, most sensitive “coming out” scene at the prom that you can imagine.
What Cannon can’t do is keep this picture from stopping cold every fifteen minutes or so, sensitive moments that kill the comic momentum and make us notice that the kid actors aren’t in the same charisma league as the grownups.
But that’s pretty much the point. We’re not leaving this “to the kids.” We’re growing older but not up. It’s “Don’t do what I did,” even though that has never worked in the history of generation gaps.
And if we’re reduced to “Blockers” because we’ve been there, done that, that doesn’t mean, in the movies at least, that we have to go gently into that “Be the adult here” night.
MPAA Rating: R for crude and sexual content, and language throughout, drug content, teen partying, and some graphic nudity
Cast: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Geraldine Viswanathan, Kathryn Newton, Gina Gershon, Hannibal Buress
Running time: 1:42