TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The teen sex comedy "Blockers" opens in theaters this week. It's directed by "30 Rock" and "Pitch Perfect" writer Kay cannon and stars Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz as parents trying to stop their daughters from having sex on prom night. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: "Blockers" is a pushy, raunchy, loud sex comedy that works like gangbusters. What's novel is that it has two diametrically opposed sets of protagonists - three close but very different teenage girls who make a pact to lose their virginity after senior prom and three parents, two men, one woman, who embark on a hysterical odyssey to stop the plan from reaching fruition.
If you think the parents' behavior and indeed the whole premise sounds reactionary in this day and age, you're not alone. That's why the parents are pretty much the butt of all the jokes and why they're constantly getting lectured, not just by kids but also other adults. They're told they're applying a different standard to daughters than sons, and they know that. They're dumb, but they're not stupid. And still, they go forward, enacting some ancient guardianship ritual that feels right even when it's wrong, which is incredibly funny if they're not your parents, anyway.
"Blockers" is the directorial debut of Kay Cannon, who wrote "Pitch Perfect." I'd burn my boats and say she's the best thing to happen to comedy in years if she hadn't also written "Pitch Perfect 2" and 3, which stunk. But on the evidence, she's a sensational director. You can tell she has a background in comedy improv because of how free the actors seem. Brian and Jim Kehoes' script is good, but it's the giddy, all-in performances that put every scene over the top.
Jabbering Leslie Mann hasn't been this wonderful since "Knocked Up." She's Lisa, the single mom of Julie, the girl who informs her friends she's having sex with a guy she loves after prom. John Cena, the ex-wrestler with the sweet face and humongous upper body, is Mitchell, dad of Kayla, who says she'll also have sex on prom night, though with her ponytailed lab partner she barely knows. Ike Barinholtz is Hunter, the divorced, alcoholic, largely absent dad of Sam, the girl who vows to sleep with a boy, even though she's plainly in love with another girl at the school. The three parents are together when Julie's laptop computer chimes.
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LESLIE MANN: (As Lisa) Julie left her laptop open.
IKE BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) You guys are snooping on our kids?
JOHN CENA: (As Mitchell) No.
MANN: (As Lisa) We don't understand what they're saying, so it's not snooping.
BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) Oh, oh, I love puzzles, just saw "Inferno."
CENA: (As Mitchell) Yeah, great. What did they say?
MANN: (As Lisa) OK, so there's something about an eggplant handshake.
BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) Eggplant agreement.
CENA: (As Mitchell) Yeah. They got an agreement to make eggplant parmesan.
BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) No, eggplants are [expletive] in teenage emoji language.
CENA: (As Mitchell) What?
MANN: (As Lisa) You know what? That's true. Julie told me that, that the emojis have - they all have secret meanings. So, like, trees are weed and snowflakes are cocaine and that thing is yasss (ph) queen.
BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) Yasss queen.
CENA: (As Mitchell) Wait, what the hell is that?
BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) You've never heard of yasss queen?
CENA: (As Mitchell) No.
BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) All right, grandpa.
MANN: (As Lisa) This is sex if I've ever seen it illustrated in emoji form.
CENA: (As Mitchell) Oh, no, no, no, maybe not. They're best friends. They're just saying like, you're OK with me. You're OK to me.
EDELSTEIN: John Cena is more a face-puller than actor, but he's so dopey and vulnerable that it doesn't matter. My hat is off to him for the scene in which he's forced to participate in a sort of backwards beer-chugging contest. Never mind. I also won't spoil the movie's slapstick high point, which involves near-naked grown-ups with blindfolds. But I'll say the cameos of Gary Cole and Gina Gershon kill, and kill again and keep killing in your head when the movie's over. And then there's the scene in which Lisa leans over the wheel in pursuit of the girls and their dates in a limo while Hunter urges her on.
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BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) I have seen every single "Fast & Furious" movie - OK? - all of them, dozens of times. Have you seen any of them?
MANN: (As Lisa) I saw the Tokyo one, and I saw the one where The Rock punches the torpedo.
BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) Well, those are the best two to see. OK. In times like this, I ask myself one question. WWVDD? You know what that means?
MANN: (As Lisa) What would Vin Diesel do?
BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) No one's ever gotten that before. OK. What we're going to do - we're going to kiss the bumper. You give it a little tap, and then they're going to spin and stop, and we're going to spin and stop the other way. And we're going to look at each other, and we're going to go, it's all about the family.
MANN: (As Lisa) Wait, I don't feel comfortable running the kids off the road.
BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) This slow and unfurious attitude is not helping us. You have to believe.
MANN: (As Lisa) OK.
BARINHOLTZ: (As Hunter) Kiss it.
EDELSTEIN: Ike Barinholtz might be the breakout star of "Blockers." At any given moment, his face is doing five different things, all of which are funny and some of which are alarming, since he looks dissipated, haunted, like a human car wreck. And the three girls - Kathryn Newton as Julie, Geraldine Viswanathan as Kayla, and Gideon Adlon as Sam - are so superbly self-possessed that even I, father of two teenage girls, felt reasonably comfortable with most of their decisions, though their projectile vomiting from drugs and drinking had me thinking about texting my kids.
The best thing about "Blockers" is for all its high-velocity raunch, there's something fundamentally healthy about the way these kids and their parents act out. Lisa wants to save her daughter from making the mistakes that she, Lisa, did. Stereotypical strong dad Mitchell is warped by his own strength. He's so muscle-bound, he can barely move. Hunter is trying to correct for a lifetime of errors in one night. The movie has the quality of an ancient bacchanalian comedy in which humans are reckless fools, but the forgiving spirit of comedy itself leaves the characters in one piece and the audience exhausted from laughing.
GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like this week's interviews with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about her new book, "Fascism: A Warning," and with Mark Oliver Everett, the founder of the band Eels, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.