Blockers (**1/2) tries to be everything

Blockers

Blockers – 2018

Director Kay Cannon
Screenplay Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe
Starring Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon, Sarayu Blue, Gary Cole, Colton Dunn, Gina Gershon, Jimmy Bellinger

When considering the success or failure of a comedy like Blockers, it’s almost impossible for me to be entirely objective. I am the married father of one 15-year-old girl and another who is on her way to turning 12. The pedigree for the film is mixed. On the one hand we have the woman who wrote all three of the superior Pitch Perfect films…only she’s directing the first major script for the Kehoe siblings. There are plenty of comedy professionals in the cast. Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, Gina Gershon and Gary Cole on the high side. Then there’s almost everyone else. Many of whom I don’t recall seeing in a movie before.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have so many new faces in a comedy. Several of the best introduce us to new stars. Even if this isn’t the best comedy of the year, or likely even the month, there is still plenty enough talent to go around.

This is one of those movies that tries to be all-inclusive, so of course we need to see couples of all stripes. Sometimes it works and other times it feels like a liberal civics lesson, which is not where I go for yuks. Giving us mixed race couples at this point is kind of good thing and the ones they have here are all pretty low-key.  Thankfully, we are not thrown any culturally appropriate notes in the mix.

Other times, with the kids, it seems like an adult version of how kids intermingle and share things which are important in their lives. It rarely rings true. Supposedly we have three girls who are the best of friends, yet two of them don’t know that the other one isn’t into guys?  Hardly. I am a father. It’s my job to shout things from the other side of the room and be disconnected in general. Regrettably or not, I know more about the proclivities of my eldest’s friends than the kids in this film seem to know about the people they are supposedly with all of the time.

The drug use in the film is extensive and pretty off-putting. I wouldn’t let either of my kids see this film. I wouldn’t want them to think this is what adults who make movies think they are okay doing. Usually the next sentence in a diatribe like this would infer some kind of counter to the idea that I am a prude. It’s not that which drives my contention. I have always found it idiotic to show behavior without consequence.

That’s why I am a fan of Bill Murray. Every bit of his humor includes consequences.

The whole plot is forced, from the “I guess we’re friends” beginning through the reuinion of three parents (Mann, Barinholtz and Cena) years later when each of their girls are going to the prom. Wacky hi jinks lead the parents to assume their version of the worst for their kids on Prom night. So off these three go, on their way to a version of hugging and learning about their kids and themselves, while they try to make a dent in their kids’ lives.

There are many things that work in this film, but they are disconnected. I figure it makes the most sense to just go down the line of the cast.

  • Leslie Mann / Lisa Decker – One of the best comic actresses in the business today, her instincts allow her to make the best out of even bad scripts. She’s seen plenty of bad scripts. She comes across okay here. She can turn comedy from absurd to sweet and back on a dime.
  • Ike Barinholtz / Hunter – A better script would have featured more of him, but I am biased. He’s in most of it already. Barinholtz is completely cognizant of the same things that Mann knows about comedy. When considering that he and Mann play opposite sides of the same coin, they still handle the transitions from comedy to drama impressively. The connection with his daughter (Adion) works the best of the three subplots.
  • John Cena / Mitchell – If ever there was a guy that everyone is rooting for to succeed in comedy, it might be Cena. The guy was actually really good in Trainwreck. That he is not real good here, I can blame on the direction and the script. He’s game for anything the script wants him to do, even if he doesn’t seem to have comic chops enough to realize his character has to draw a line somewhere. It comes across as painfully obvious that Cena has never been a parent before when he marches through his scenes with the enthusiasm of a scout leader who never left the scouts long enough to get a girlfriend.
  • Kathryn Newton / Julie Decker – As Mann’s daughter, she’s the most experienced actress of the bunch, and she’s the most generic. She’s basically there to be darling and have the best intentions with her boyfriend. It’s a low impact role, but she manages to move through the performance with the job of being nearby while others are funny.
  • Gideon Adlon / Sam – The best of the three kid stories. Hers could have been handled more realistically if the film makers just realized that no kids these days keep their preferences a secret. How could they deprive themselves of the drama? That aside, her handling of the “beard” of the story, the odd-shaped ginger Chad (Bellinger) is sweet. She is respectful of his feelings and he is of hers. It’s pretty nice to show kids treating one another well even when they’re not sure who or what they want to be yet. Adlon puts a lot of depth into her character, even when they make the object of her affection a somewhat cliche nerd.
  • Geraldine Viswnanathan / Kayla – The most obviously talented actress, yet most frustrating character. She has incredible confidence and a great onscreen presence. Her character chooses to hook up with the school drug cooker. Strangely enough, she has the more flippant than him about it. She’s a star athlete, like her father (Cena), but she absorbs drugs (apparently for the first time) like a pro because of it? We all know people can live double lives, but the duality isn’t invented just for prom.
  • Gary Cole and Gina Gershon – Not enough movies feature Cole. And this film featured more of him than even I wanted to see. Still, he is incredibly funny as being happily married to Gershon. They are both taking advantage of the free time they get when their son goes to prom with Julie.

This is not a bad film. It’s definitely not a great one. In total, I laughed maybe twice. But I smiled a few more times. If you see it, don’t look at it as any sort of guide to life, because no one should use comedy films as a guide to life. Except for Bill Murray movies.

(**1/2 out of *****)

 

 

 

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