Why Kay Cannon Feels So Much Pressure For Blockers To Succeed

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The most interesting scene in Blockers wasn't originally in the movie. Here's the gist: Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), one of the three teenage protagonists engaged in a sex pact to lose their virginity on prom night, accepts a flask from her date, perma-stoned lab partner Connor (Miles Robbins). But before she takes a sip, she clears the air. "I'm fully planning on having sex tonight," she declares.
"Wherever the wind sails our ships," he muses.
"Your ship is sailing into my harbor," she deadpans.
It's a funny exchange, and one that is crucial to what makes Blockers such a progressive, female-focused sex comedy: Consent. Which is why Kay Cannon, the film's director, made sure it was added to Brian and Jim Kehoe's script.
"I worked with really great guys, feminists, who were really respectful," she said in an interview with Refinery29. "And yet there are some things men just don't get. Or they don't have to think about. So something that was really important to me was that Kayla offers consent before she takes a sip of alcohol. They didn't worry about it so much and I was like, 'No, you need to understand that it's not consent if she's intoxicated at all. She needs to say what her intention is or give her consent."
It's that kind of attention to detail — left out, not from ill will, but simply because it didn't occur to the male writers — that underscores the need for more female directors when it comes to helming projects about women. Cannon's no stranger to the genre, having earned her chops as a writer and producer on 30 Rock, New Girl and the Pitch Perfect franchise. Still, as one of three women helming a studio movie in 2018 (Ava Duvernay and Jennifer Yuh Nelson are the two others), the pressure was on. "I'm still shocked that the movie got made, and that I directed it, and it's coming out," she joked. But on a more serious note, Cannon has some very high expectations to contend with, even in the aftermath of Wonder Woman's massive box office success in 2017. A woman directing an R-rated movie about teenage girls having sex is still too rare an occurrence — if it flops, who knows how much that will set progress back.
"You want to do good business — not selfishly, because I'll be fine, I'll get another writing job," Cannon said. "But I also want to grab the torch from Patty Jenkins and keep it moving, so they can't just say that Wonder Woman was an anomaly."
So, how does she cope with the stress? Well, hugs and wise words from Ava Duvernay, who she ran into in London during the A Wrinkle in Time press tour, help. "She was so lovely to me," Cannon recalled. "She said: "I wish you wonderful audiences. Don't worry about reviews, don't worry about the box office. My hope for you is that you have beautiful audiences."
It was kind of a surreal moment, made even more so by the thought that popped into Cannon's head. "I was like, 'Oh, we're two thirds of the women directing for studios.'"
She added: "It's really crazy to me, because I think we had so much success, at least comedy-wise, in 2015 when Pitch Perfect 2 came out, and Trainwreck. The list would have gotten longer had there been more openness to try to green-light stories that were female-driven or [with women] behind the camera. But that didn't happen. And I think what's been great about the Time's Up movement and the inclusion riders is it's like, 'No more.' You're not allowed to have a short term memory anymore. None of these huge successes that are female-driven, especially behind the camera, are anomalies. You have to be better at actively searching to find talent outside of your pool of people that you use all the time."
The importance of having women involved in the making of Blockers was more evident than ever in the aftermath of its first trailer release, which appeared to frame the narrative of parents reacting to their teenage daughters' sexuality by attempting to repress it completely as a righteous cause. The movie itself has a very different message, and one that came out of Cannon's own musings about motherhood.
"My daughter's four, but she was two when I read the script, and I could really relate to the material of being a progressive parent, but then evaluating how I would feel. I'm not overprotective, but you just don't want anything bad to happen to your kid. I've just recently been thinking about like, what if my daughter dates Jax [from Vanderpump Rules]?"
"But I need her to make her own decisions, and whatever she decides, I just want to make sure she loves herself, and then I'm there for her. I was a teenage girl who had all these things going on in my life in terms of losing virginity or wants and desires. I felt like I connected, and want to tell that story."
With a critical score of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes two days before Blockers' official theatrical release, this is clearly a message that's been resonating with viewers. And it helps that the film is, you know, funny. Really funny. And ultimately, that's Cannon's goal.
"I really hope women go to see this movie in droves," she said. "We laugh at the same things that guys laugh at. This idea that us ladies need to be catered to — the studios going 'Well, that's not what women like.' Let's show them what women like."
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