At first glance, Blockers looks like another unoriginal and uninspired studio comedy. The film revolves around three parents – Mitchell (John Cena), Lisa (Leslie Mann), and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) – who accidentally learn that their daughters have entered into a pact to lose their virginity to their respective prom dates. Upon this discovery, the trio of parents decide to crash prom to stop their daughters from going through with it. Cue hijinks.
It’s a premise that’s hard to get excited about, as the broad concept of parents losing their mind at the thought of their kids having sex has long been exploited by movies and TV shows for cheap laughs. Fortunately, Blockers’ hackneyed plot turns out to be a trojan horse: the movie uses the familiar formula to eviscerate the idea that parents should regard their children’s sexuality with a combination of shame and terror. Instead, Blockers turns out to have a genuinely poignant message about the importance of sex-positive parenting.
Blockers’ progressive outlook on how parents should handle their kids’ sexuality is a remarkable break from the majority of coming-of-age movies or TV shows, where a parent’s unspoken job has been to keep their kid from having sex for as long as possible. This fear-based approach only intensifies with daughters, as pop culture dads will often revert to acting like an overbearing jackass to keep their “princess” from giving up her precious virginity to some sleazy asshole. 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, Freaks and Geeks, 10 Things I Hate About You, Cheaper By the Dozen, Knocked Up, and countless others all happily played to the lazy idea that dads should use fear to force their daughters into a life of chastity.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with the idea of a parent not wanting their daughter to have a negative sexual experience. In fact, parents should explain the consequences of sexual activity early and often to their kids, as well as discussing safe and fulfilling sex. When a teen girl is only taught about sex from a place of fear, however, it’s nearly impossible for her to view sex in a positive way. She has been subtly objectified in a way that makes her feel not like sex is a constantly evolving part of her, but rather something to be used as a bargaining chip in the endless battle of the sexes. For decades, movies have fully embraced this notion and encouraged parents to view their daughters’ sexuality in this archaic and dangerous way.
That’s not to say that movies and TV shows haven’t, on occasion, dabbled with the idea of sex-positive parenting. More often than not, however, it’s been played as a punchline. Look no further than American Pie for an example. When Mr. Levensetin (Eugene Levy) catches his adolescent son Jim literally fucking an apple pie, he forces himself to sit down and have a “sex education” talk. Levenstein tries to introduce his kid to the basics of the birds and the bees but his earnest attempt at opening up a dialogue about sex with his son falls entirely flat.
The scene still resonates today, because it represents how many parents view having to discuss sex with their kid. It’s a well-intentioned but ultimately fruitless experience that comes way too late in a kid’s life (Jim is a high school senior at this point and is engaged with a sex pact with his three best friends).
If you look outside of Noah Levenstein, there are a few other examples of parents who seem to at least not want to make their kids terrified of sex, including Olive’s impossibly cool parents in Easy A and the always-wonderful Adam Braverman from Parenthood. However, these have clearly been the exceptions to the rule in pop culture.
So why does Blockers feel less like another exception and more like a moment that could signify a larger cultural shift? Because sex-positive parenting isn’t just a part of the movie. It’s what the entire movie is about.
Initially, the Blockers parents, specifically Lisa and Mitchell, seem to have the same sex-shaming tendencies as so many movie parents before them. This turns out to be a clever rouse, as the movie continually calls out the two for the shitty way they are treating their daughters. Hunter, who at first seems like little more than the comic relief, resists Mitchell and Lisa’s terrible plan to stop their daughters from losing their virginity, saying that they need to be okay with their daughters’ decisions. The two ignore his rational complaints and eventually get him on board. The three are later called out again by Mitchell’s wife Marcie, who says that their attempt to control their daughters’ sexual experiences are completely based in sexism.
Despite these valid points, none of it is enough to convince the trio from doing all they can — including destroying Lisa’s car and forcing Mitchell into a butt-chugging contest — to stop their daughters from having sex. Once they finally reach their daughters, however, all three experience a change of heart and realize just how insane their plan is. Once Mitchell, Lisa, and Hunter stop hunting their daughters down to convince them to give chastity belts a chance, the three actually sit down and talk in an open and honest way, knowing full well that they’re never going to do a perfect job. Instead, each of the parents does his or her best to share their concerns while making it clear to their daughters that they are allowed to say no to anything they don’t want to do without fear mongering or shaming.
Sound complicated? It is. And that’s just the point. Blockers wants you to know confusion is perfectly normal. The movie is fully aware that opening up a sex-positive dialogue with your kid will get really confusing and uncomfortable really quickly. Mistakes are all but guaranteed for even the most prepared parents. Despite their many (many) mistakes, Mitchell, Lisa, and Hunter learn that all you can really do is let your kid know you love them, trust them, and, let them go off into the world to become their own person. Who knew a movie where John Cena butt chugs a beer could be so progressive?