Prom comedies are kind of an awkward thing, especially once you reconcile it with just how shitty your senior prom was in real life (you might think you’re better, but trust me, those wounds will never ever heal). The best ones, however, tend to place the actual prom itself as the location of the climax of the narrative: Think the Enchantment Under the Sea dance from Back to the Future and how well that works as a convergence of storylines, or Carrie, if you’re as bitter about the experience as I am.
Kay Cannon’s Blockers eschews that typical framework, as we as a society have come to the realization that it’s what happens after the prom that matters more than any chaperoned dance. Amidst the craziness of prom afterparties and all of the raunch that those debauched moments entail, the Pitch Perfect scribe-turned-director has managed to find some heart at the core of all of it, and has assembled a fantastic cast to deliver moments both meaningful and funny as hell.
Three parents and friends — Leslie Mann, playing the kind of helicopter single parent who assumes that they’re best friends with their kid (Kathryn Newton), John Cena, the sort of father who is able to excuse his daughter’s (Geraldine Viswanathan) experiments with smoking because she’s able to reason with him using baseball metaphors, and Ike Barinholtz, the type of deadbeat divorcee who has seemingly abandoned his child (Gideon Adlon) — discover that their teenage daughters have made a pact to lose their virginities on prom night and decide to cock-block them before their lives get ruined.
However, Cena, unable to reconcile the image in his mind of his baby girl and the woman she has now become, is really the only parent out of the group who actually wants to preserve their daughter’s chastity; Mann’s more shell-shocked by the fact that her daughter wants to head cross-country to another college, and Barinholtz wants to make his daughter’s night the best she’s ever had because he hasn’t been there for her since his divorce. Well, he also decides to tag along because his daughter is gay (He Just Knows, I guess) and because she’s about to be pressured by her pals into having sex with a fedora-wearing male nerd, and who would want that for their child? So, crazy-ass hijinks ensue, with the parents narrowly missing the kids at a number of different events, and everybody ultimately heads towards an emotionally fulfilling resolution of their arcs as these things are want to do.
Those shenanigans are delivered by Cannon with cinematic flair and plenty of gusto, and you can tell she’s having a ball with this material as well. She’s got a knack for crafting some brilliant comedic set-pieces: A second act scene involving a sex game being played by another set of parents (to reveal who specifically would be to spoil the surprise) which Barinholtz and Cena are accidentally thrust into the middle of and, as such, they’re forced to remain utterly silent during the whole time. Their mouthed banter is subtitled, and this ratchets up the tension and anticipation for a particularly extreme gag, and when it finally lands at the end of the sequence it was like a bunker buster had gone off in my theater- it killed, to say the very least.
Cena’s butt-chugging, a feature of most of the trailers and thus only warranting a cursory mention here, is still funny when you see it in context. The kids are all given their moments to shine as well, with Newton getting a throwaway laugh line about American Beauty that is just hilarious, and Viswanathan’s adventures with a bunch of drugs of various potency, provided to her by her dealer date, “the Chef” (Miles Robbins), are endlessly amusing. There are some small missteps throughout — it’s a lot longer than I would have expected it to be and strains a bit under its quest-like storyline — but Cannon’s gags don’t go to waste, and have enough filmmaking acumen behind them to give something like Game Night a run for its money.
Though each of the three adult leads are compelling and ultimately swell — including Mann, whose work I’ve never really enjoyed until now, and Barinholtz, who has never met a bad movie he didn’t like but is pretty funny here — it’s Cena who steals the show. He’s a walking set of comedic contrasts: The tough guy who cries, the burly man who is actually a clueless innocent, and he plays each of these up to their logical conclusion. And so much of the film revolves around an ultimate rebuttal of his character’s ethos that you’d think he’d be a villain, and he probably would be in a lesser film. But his earnestness goes a long way in making up for it and making him sympathetic, and we grow along with him, gently coming to see Cannon’s point (one that she hammers home with a lengthy argument between Mann and Cena’s on-screen wife, Sarayu Rao): That young women should be free to make choices and mistakes in the same way that young men are encouraged to by their peers and their parents.
And it’s great to see a set of talented young actresses just having fun in the same way that guys like Michael Cera and Jonah Hill did 10 years ago. Along with other recent films like Maggie Carey’s The To Do List, Blockers might be the revitalization this oft-forgotten subgenre of women-focused teen comedy needs, and it’s also a damn good time at the movies.