Prom night. It is movie shorthand for virginal teenagers vying to no longer be virginal. A cliche that has worn a comfy groove for itself with a number of teenage rom coms, raunchy comedies, and the like.
Prom night is the setting of Blockers, the directorial debut of Pitch Perfect screenwriter Kay Cannon. And, surprisingly, the film finesses its way around the pitfalls of such a cliched locale quite well.
The film centers on three parents (Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz) who discover that their daughters (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon) have made a pact to have sex for the first time on prom night. How the parents decide to react to this knowledge is movie-logical and otherwise entirely illogical.
And yet, much of what this movie’s plot does functions effectively within its own world. The movie proceeds in a more or less conventional fashion—even going so far as to hit the obligatory emotional beats in the final act that these broad comedies always clumsily attempt—but it does so in a way that is, by and large, comically satisfying.
What raunchy comedies of this sort tend to do is shove as many jokes in your face, hoping that enough comedy will stick to keep you invested until the blooper reel. Usually, this results in comedy that feels forced and simply not clever. Blockers, too, tosses a lot at the wall when it comes to its comedy, but the cast makes most of the material work.
Mann, Cena, and Barinholtz all bring something different to the table that keeps their storyline from being cumbersome. Mann controls her persona the best, allowing her character some semblance of reality while also delivering some of the better and wackier comedy moments in the film. Cena does what he has done in other recent comedies by playing the soft giant who is easily emotionally moved, and he does a serviceable job. And Barinholtz has some great nonverbal reactions, even if they are a constant tic of his character and can get distracting.
The younger trio of performances is not as overtly comic, although their subplot is substantial and ultimately more satisfying on a narrative level. Geraldine Viswanathan and Miles Robbins, who plays her character’s prom date, are the standouts in this subplot.
Some of the best comedy in the film come from smaller roles. Gina Gershon and Gary Cole cameo as another set of parents, and a small part for comedian Colton Dunn makes him seem underutilized given how well he delivers his handful of punchlines. Other comedians like Hannibal Burress and June Diane Raphael, on the other hand, are hardly utilized at all.
It being Cannon’s first foray into directing, their are understandable hiccups in her visual construction. There are some shots that just feel askew. An over-the-shoulder shot will look more like an actor’s back taking over the screen, or the blocking of characters will keep a frame from looking balanced.
Where some of the visual design is lacking, however, Cannon makes up for it by executing a fairly tight broad comedy with a strong cast. Blockers doesn’t hit a gold standard when it comes to the broad comedy, but it definitely clears the bar.
The only downside of the film’s comic success is that it could easily lead to a rushed, re-hashed sequel involving the parents tracking their children down in college…
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)