Why Are We All Surprised That Blockers Is Good?

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Blockers made $21.4 million this weekend, making it the highest-grossing R-rated comedy since Girl's Trip made its $31 million debut back in July 2017.
Kay Cannon's directorial debut trailed only behind John Krasinski's surprise horror hit A Quiet Place ($50M), and Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One ($25.1M). Not bad for someone who, in the weeks before the movie's release, confided about the pressure she faced for it to do well.
But the film's success was never assured. The early pieces written after the trailer's release in October were wary of its premise, pointing out that maybe a comedy about parents trying at all costs to prevent their teenage daughters from losing their virginities isn't the kind of portrayal of sex we need in a post #MeToo world.
But, as many reviews (including our own) pointed out, Blockers turned out to be very different from the film that was initially marketed. Was it funny? Yes. Was it irreverent and raunchy at times? Definitely. But what makes this film stand out from other Superbad disciples is the way in which it treated its teenage female protagonists: as fully-fledged human beings, with inner lives and the ability to choose their own paths, rather than objects led by the whims of the men around them.
The film was praised by critics, and earned a certified fresh stamp and 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, the overwhelming reaction was one of (pleasant) surprise: "One thing I did not expect going into Blockers was to tear up at a tenderly rendered gay storyline," Alanna Bennett from Buzzfeed tweeted along with her piece on the subject. Tomris Laffly, who reviewed the film for One Perfect Shot,"wasn't expecting to like as much as I did."Viviane Kane at The Mary Sue gave it 4 out of 5 stars with the qualifier, "I know, I'm as surprised as you are."
In some ways, this shock is justified. We've seen too many Apatowian man boys take a stab at the virginity beat not to be astounded that someone got finally it right. This isn't to say that projects directed by women are inherently better. In this case though, having a woman at the helm turned a 2012 script about three dads hell-bent on protecting their daughters' purity into a powerful feminist comedy.
We can thank Cannon for one of the film's most important scenes, in which Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) verbally consents to sex before embarking on a drug and alcohol-fueled night.
"I worked with really great guys, feminists, who were really respectful," she told Refinery29 in an interview. "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."
Cannon, using her experience as a writer and producer on 30 Rock, New Girl, and the Pitch Perfect movies, gave her input on other key moments, including the gay storyline referenced above, and a conversation between two mothers (Leslie Mann's character was originally supposed to be a man) that points out the hypocritical attitude we as a society have towards young women and sex. But ultimately, her main contribution was to make sure that these young women felt real. "When I got the script, there was this imbalance where it was mostly the parents' movie," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "I wanted to make sure that the girls were all individuals, that they all had different wants and desires and that they weren't interchangeable."
And that's the key. The result is a film that's far more about female sexual choice than it is about virginity, putting three assertive female characters with different motivations and interests front and center. The reason that's still surprising is that sex comedies, and especially R-rated sex comedies, are still largely a male universe (think American Pie; Knocked Up; The Girl Next Door), more concerned with making sure the dude protagonists get laid than with the personalities of the women they're usually trying to trick into bed.
In Blockers, the roles are reversed, behind the camera as well as onscreen. And as a result, maybe the next success story won't be so hard to imagine.
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