It’s hard to imagine anyone predicting 10 years ago that John Cena would become a comedy powerhouse, and yet … here we are.
After scene-stealing cameos in Trainwreck and Sisters, Cena makes his comedy-lead debut in Blockers, alongside Leslie Mann (This Is 40, Knocked Up) and Ike Barinholtz (Neighbors, Suicide Squad).
If you have seen the trailers — and you more than likely have because they have been everywhere — you probably get the gist.
Three parents discover their daughters have made a “sex pact” to lose their virginity on prom night. This does not sit well with the parents, who set off on an ill-fated quest to stop them. Mayhem ensues.
The premise sounds fairly simple and predictable, which is somewhat true. The plot is contingent on the audience believing that parents accidentally discovered an active message thread on a teenager’s computer that said teen just so happened to unintentionally leave open when they left the house.
While that feels a bit far-fetched, there are plenty of hilariously absurd moments to make it feel less forced. Ironically, it’s in the way the film handles its tropes that you realize how brilliant it actually is.
Essentially, Blockers is two movies in one. Or, maybe more accurately, the storyline that appears to be the main plot is actually a subplot to the real story, which is about the teenage daughters.
In a typical “raunchy” comedy you can safely expect to be watching one basic story that has offshoots and random subplots to keep the audience interested. Blockers takes that formula and flips it upside down by having two cohesive and fleshed out stories that start at the same place, separate and run alongside each other, then come back together at the end.
The complex comedy script was written by Brian and Jim Kehoe, but in the hands of first-time director Kay Cannon it takes on a whole new life.
Cannon might be best known as the writer of the Pitch Perfect films, but she was also a writer on 30 Rock as well as a few episodes of New Girl. She has experience working on comedy projects with strong female characters and has evidently brought that skill to Blockers.
It’s no surprise that Leslie Mann is funny. She’s proven time and time again that she is a qualified leading actress. However, what Cannon brings to the table for her is practicality. Mann’s character is painted as a single mom whose daughter has become her best friend. She’s kind of goofy, but isn’t inept. And, she wears tennis shoes.
That sounds small, but it’s really crucial to the character and a testimony to the film’s attention to detail. Normally in movies where a woman is on some chaotic adventure, she has heels that she has to take off at some point. Not Blockers. Mann’s character starts out wearing practical footwear, and she ends wearing practical footwear. In a film with so many unbelievable moments, little things like this make Blockers feel grounded.
Maybe the most surprising aspect of the movie are the three teenage daughters, played wonderfully by Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies), Gideon Adlon (American Crime), and film newcomer Geraldine Viswanathan, who plays the daughter of Cena’s character Mitchell.
Each are fantastic actresses and their sense of comedic timing is near perfect. A couple jokes fall flat, but those few misses never have a negative affect on the film’s flow. Thanks to their talent and Cannon’s intuition as a director, Blockers accomplishes something that takes the audience completely by surprise.
The girls are given room to explore their personal feelings and decisions on sex and other crucial life issues in a scope that also allows them to show that, while they may have uncertainty at times like any normal person, they are more than just plot devices.
Their personalities are developed and not sexualized. They are normal teenage girls. In spite of how jaded, misguided, and overprotective their parents are, they are growing into strong, smart adults. The teenage boys in the film are not stereotypical either. They are respectful and understanding rather than arrogant and sex-crazed, which is the teenage-boy-archetype that should exist in film today.
The parents are not without their learning moments either. There are a few times that the tone of Blockers drops to a serious vibe and it’s hard to tell if the discomfort is leading to something or if it’s simply to keep the audience from getting too comfortable.
Ultimately, in Farrelly Brothers-fashion, the tension is always quickly cut with something hilarious that starkly contrasts with the drama. These moments specifically are where the range of Barinholtz, an established comedic actor, really dazzles. It’s surprising, albeit not shocking, to see him deliver a monologue or two that hit you in the heart and gut.
Conversely, Cena fully steps into the comedy spotlight and shines bright. His physical build and background in the WWE make him a prime candidate for action films, which he has done, but he has comedy chops that stand up well against weathered comedians.
Blockers shows how naturally funny Cena can be by rarely using his size as a part of the joke. Mitchell, Cena’s character, is not his muscles and height. Those are just his physical traits. He’s a loving, domestic dad who is just a little misguided in the way he wants to protect his daughter. His personality is what gets him into hard-to-watch situations, such as a “butt chug” contest.
Make no mistake — Blockers includes some astute representation and gender-role commentary. But all of that flows underneath a roaring rapid of classic, R-rated raunchy humor that will have audiences cackling with laughter.
Of course, it is not a completely flawless film. There are issues with pacing during the first third of the film, when it feels a tad clunky. Plus, a few of the early jokes feel a bit inorganic.
The first really big laugh comes about 30 minutes in and thankfully the movie never lets up from there. The laughs roll consistently and the film leaves you with aching stomach muscles and an altered perspective on modern parent-child relationships.
If you head to the theater this weekend and catch Blockers, you will be immensely glad that you did.