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Blockers Miraculously Delivers the Perfect Sex Comedy for the #TimesUp Era

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Nearly 20 years ago, the 90s teen hit American Pie premiered, giving a much-needed update to the godfather of all sex comedies: Porky’s. But for all the progress seen in American Pie—a film that actually gave its female characters distinct personalities and a bit of agency—the movie that brought us MILFs, uncomfortable uses for flutes, and sexual congress with a pastry now looks as musty as any film that’s set several decades in the past. Enter Blockers, written and directed by Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect), a film that reflects a much more contemporary, sex-positive experience—and one that lets everyone laugh, in grand gross-out humor fashion, at the same time.

The film, which premiered at the SXSW film festival Saturday night, is fairly simply and efficiently told. Three life-long friends who are high school seniors—Julie (Kathryn Newton), Sam (Gideon Adlon), and Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan)—decide to lose their virginity on prom night. Julie’s mom, Lisa (Leslie Man), Sam’s dad, Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), and Kayla’s dad, Mitchell (John Cena) discover the plan and race against the clock to try to stop their daughters. What follows is a fairly standard chase movie as the girls party hop and the parents hopelessly scramble through setpieces including, yes, a scene in which John Cena butt-chugs beer out of love for his daughter.

But while the premise sounds incredibly regressive, Blockers never stops challenging the double standard that once upon a time would accompany a movie centered on keeping young women “pure.” Continuously called out by other adults, students, their own daughters, and even one of their own, these three parents are both entirely sympathetic and entirely wrong-headed for trying to stop their children from growing up.

Cannon is no stranger to infiltrating the world of blue-humor teen comedy and telling it from a woman’s point of view. Her script for the first Pitch Perfect was a surprise runaway hit thanks to its clever treatment of college movie tropes through the lens of female friendship. When Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wanted to add a different point of view to their sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, they called on Cannon. It’s clear she made an effort here to create a trio of girls and a larger network of families that accurately represent America in 2018. Coming-of-age narratives have, for so long, been populated by straight, white, men—but htis one centers on a group of young women who are none of those things.

Though her mixed-race status doesn’t play a key role in the film, Viswanathan’s Kayla wears a beautiful, vaguely East Asian inspired prom dress and has an Indian-American mom, Marcie (Sarayu Rao), who serves as the family’s breadwinner. Blockers also explores the issues that might make Adlon’s Sam—who is trying to figure out if she’s into girls or guys—feel ostracized from her friends. The lack of fear Blockers shows for a gay love story within the confines of a major studio sex comedy is nothing short of revolutionary. The film treats all three of these young women with enormous respect while never once losing its sense of humor.

There’s been a troubling narrative in these politically-charged times that a push towards progressive ideals is killing comedy. Labels like “woke” or ”social justice warrior” go hand-in-hand with accusations of humorlessness. But Blockers effectively obliterates that argument, transforming jokes that might once have resorted to gay panic into a pissing contest over who among the parents is the least homophobic. It’s also mind-boggling that Cannon was able to make a film about teen sex, and the very real pressures facing women in the #MeToo era, without ever getting preachy or stripping these young women of their agency. Time is most emphatically up on telling young women they can’t have control in sexual situations. The film also treats the girls’ would-be conquests—Connor (Miles Robbins), Austin (Graham Phillips), and Chad (Jimmy Bellinger)—with as much respect as it does the girls, without ever letting the movie get away from these young women and their point of view.

In addition to the trios of girls, boys, and parents, Blockers is populated by a number of nimble comedic performers like Gary Cole (in a very brave performance), June Diane Raphael, and Hannibal Buress. Superstore’sColton Dunn gets one of the best physical gags of the film as a limo driver determined to deliver the best prom night experience he can.

It’s disingenuous to pretend that there haven’t been any steps between American Pie and this film; Blockers certainly owes something to the parental antics of Neighbors, the sexual insecurities of Superbad, and the brash female-fronted comedy of Bridesmaids, Trainwreck, and Pitch Perfect. But the prom night sex pact aspect does rope those two specific movies into a certain conversation across the decades—and if American Pie is the call from the 90s, then Blockers is a fitting 2018 response.

Get Vanity Fair’s HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:Week in Fashion: Jaden Smith’s Pink Hair Makes Its Fashion Week DebutJoanna RobinsonJoanna Robinson is a Hollywood writer covering TV and film for VanityFair.com.

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