Image Source: Getty / Rich Polk
At first glance, Blockers has all the trappings of teen comedies we've seen 100 times before. Raunchy one-liners? Check. Trippy drug experiences? Check. A teenager's quest to lose their virginity? Check. John Cena chugging a beer using his . . . butt? Yeah, check. Only this time we're not watching a group of young men come of age, and Blockers definitely isn't another formulaic teen comedy. In the hands of director Kay Cannon, the film evolves into something that's a little bit more meaningful, a lot more feminist, and yes — truly f*cking hilarious.
That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention to Cannon's highly successful career thus far. After spending years working behind the scenes as a writer and producer on Tina Fey's NBC comedy 30 Rock, Cannon penned the screenplay for a little movie called Pitch Perfect. Not only was an insanely popular, female-led musical comedy franchise launched, but so was Cannon's desire to tell stories that celebrate women.
"When I did Pitch Perfect, I just wanted to tell a story," Cannon tells me during a recent interview ahead of the Blockers premiere. "The story is all female groups are underdogs in the a capella world. That's where the story lived, right? For me, I was writing a sports comedy, sort of a Bad News Bears. Then when Pitch Perfect had this success and was touted as this female empowered movie about female friendship . . . in my mind, I'd had blinders on and I was just focused on telling a funny story with funny characters, because I'm a woman who knows a lot of other women who are funny. That's what I like, that's what I know."
"The ideas that I'm most drawn to are centered around women."
From there Cannon worked on comedies like New Girl and Cristela, both of which prominently feature female characters, as well as the next two Pitch Perfect films. She also served as an executive producer and showrunner on Netflix's Girlboss, an ambitious ode to bold women based on Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso's meteoric rise to e-commerce fame that ultimately didn't pan out (it was canceled by the streaming giant after one season). All of this is to say that Blockers, with its unexpectedly feminist point of view, could not have ended up with a more perfect director.
Image Source: Everett Collection
For anyone who opted out of watching Cena's beer stunt in the trailer, Blockers follows three overprotective parents — played by Cena, Leslie Mann, and Ike Barinholtz, who should be cast together in every movie from now on — who join forces to keep their three daughters from losing their respective virginities on prom night. A plot like this could easily veer into territory ripe with the misogynistic sentiment that young women shouldn't be so forward when it comes to having sex for the first time, but time and time again, the film upends stereotypes you didn't even realize were there to begin with.
The screenplay was written by two men — Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe — and Cannon's addition to the project ensured Blockers had a necessary female voice.
"Brian and Jim took the project as far as they could in terms of their perspective. We had men writing the script and all the producers were male, but luckily for me, and rightly so, they said 'We can't be the ones in charge of this project, we need the female perspective,'" Cannon explained. There are countless ways this shines through, but maybe none are as important as the authentic bond between the film's three young stars: Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies), Geraldine Viswanathan (Janet King), and Gideon Adlon (American Crime).
"It was important to me that the girls had something, that each one was very individual and had different motives for why they wanted to lose their virginity. I wanted them to be really, truly best friends. Once in a while I'd get a note like, 'What are the three girls like to everyone else in high school?' and just said 'I don't care!'" Cannon says. "I don't need to see if they're popular or not. They're best friends together, and that's their world. I felt like that was very true to how I grew up. I just wanted to make sure, in terms of the story having a female perspective, that all angles of this subject were tackled."
"That's what young women are asking both their parents and society: Why are you so afraid of me making the choice to have a sex life?"
The subject of feminism comes up in two key scenes that explicitly discuss the bias against a woman choosing to lose her virginity as opposed to a man — one is traditionally derided, whereas the latter is celebrated. In the first, Mann's character Lisa goes head-to-head with another mother who tries to stop the trio with a laundry list of why what they're doing is so wrong and anti-feminist. While what she's saying rings true, it feels more like she's reading from a dusty college textbook she pulled off the shelf than having a realistic conversation. Instead, the feminist message at the heart of Blockers is best summed up in a far subtler exchange between father and daughter pair Kayla (Viswanathan) and Mitchell (Cena).
Kayla turns to him and asks a seemingly simple question: "What's so bad about sex?" Stumped, all he can say is "I don't know." That, there, is the essence of the film, and it ended up being the moment I thought about most after I watched Blockers for myself (the butt chugging was a close second). When I mention it to Cannon, she immediately gets excited, revealing that she had to fight to keep it in the movie at all.
"I think that's one of the most important lines in the whole movie. At one point I had gotten a note to cut that line and I said no, because that's the crux of it. For her to ask why sex is so bad and he can't come up with an answer . . . he just wants to be a great dad, and he's figuring it out, too. I love that," she says. "I'm glad you connected with that, because that's the big question that you want to ask. It's loaded, but that's what young women are asking both their parents and society: why are you so afraid of me making the choice to have a sex life? You just assume it's going to be bad, you just assume it's going to strip me of my innocence, when in fact it can be something great."
Image Source: Everett Collection
For every flipped car, fiery explosion, and fedora joke is a thoughtful scene about consent, sexuality, and the crucial importance of female friendship, which is more relevant than ever these days. Of all the films out right now, Blockers has the most potential to be the one where people walk into the theater and leave an hour and a half later having genuinely learned something. Fortunately, Cannon doesn't have plans to stop bringing stories like these to screens near you anytime soon.
"I feel that it's so important to tell underserved stories, and of course there are so many underserved stories that are centered around women. I think we're awesome!" Cannon says with a laugh. "Those stories should be told."
Blockers hits theaters on April 6.