By Stephanie Zacharek
April 6, 2018

It seems, at least from a casual observation of how contemporary parents deal with their kids, that children are the new best friends. No parent wants to be the enemy and, worse yet, some never want to be the boss. No wonder so many young moms and dads address their little ones as “buddy.”

But at some point, all those little buddies are going to reach adolescence. They’re going to go on dates, they’re going to start keeping secrets and they’re going to want to have sex. And then where will you, the left-behind parent-buddy, be? That’s the question addressed, in a suitably clear-eyed and raunchy way, by Blockers, the directorial debut from Kay Cannon (the writer of the Pitch Perfect movies).

Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) are the parents of three young women who, they learn, have forged a pact to have sex with their respective partners on prom night. The news is alarming to each of these parental units, for different reasons: Lisa is a needy single parent so dependent on the companionship of her daughter, Julie (Kathryn Newton), that she can’t bear to let her go off to college. Mitchell is so sensitive himself that he can’t believe the smart, capable daughter he’s raised, Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), could possibly be ready for sex. And Hunter, the wayward, absentee father, suspects that his daughter, Sam (Gideon Adlon), might be gay. He just doesn’t want her to make the mistake of having her first sexual experience with the wrong person. (Her date is a sweet, drama-nerd type, played by Jimmy Bellinger, who shows up, hilariously, in a jaunty porkpie hat that’s too small for his head.)

Blockers is designed so that you sympathize with the parents only up to a point: Their anxieties are understandable, but it’s well past time for them to let go. Of all of them, Cena’s Mitchell is the most charming—his frame is mighty, but his psyche is delicate. Mann’s strong suit is that she’s never afraid to look foolish; her best moment in Blockers involves her no-holds-barred delivery of a line that’s unprintable, at least here—she has the zeal of a demented lady squirrel protecting her nuts.

But the real reason to see Blockers is for the young women, particularly Viswanathan and Adlon, whose roles are the most deftly written. (The script is by Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe.) Kayla is athletic and brainy, and she gets all the best lines—Viswanathan handles them with breezy precision. And as Sam, who is afraid to reveal her orientation even to the two young women who have been her best friends since childhood, Adlon has a sweet, soulful openness. When she and her crush finally get together, it’s as if a kind of teenage heaven has suddenly opened just for them. She also has a moment with Barinholtz’s Hunter that suggests how even conflicted parent-child relationships can right themselves with time. Blockers has a loopy sweetness, but it’s smart, too. What’s important is to let children become the people you raised them to be. Who knows whether they’ll be your buddies forever? But they’ll always be your kids.

 

 

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