Blockers, if you haven’t seen the trailer, is the latest in a long line of raunchy American sex comedies where the laughs come from taking things way too far. And in 2018, “too far” is increasingly hard to reach. Last year’s surprise smash hit Girls Trip featured a female character’s public urination while dangling from a flying fox over a crowded New Orleans street. So while the plot for Blockers seems relatively straightforward – three parents hit the streets to try and stop their three teenage daughters from losing their virginity on prom night – the trailer is… well, see for yourself:
But it’s not John Cena accidentally chewing on his daughter’s underwear and butt-chugging beer that’s getting people riled up. It’s the fact that in 2018 we seem to have a sex comedy where young women’s bodies are being treated as their parents’ property, where sex is seen as something young women can’t be trusted to have and where parents overstepping pretty much every boundary is shown as them trying to do the right thing.
That’s a completely legitimate conclusion to reach based on the promotion for the film. The teens are shown as casually deciding to go out, get drunk and have sex with possibly random guys; the parents’ fears and concerns are depicted as totally reasonable. Who could blame them for wanting to protect their children in that situation? They might get into some wacky situations, but they’re doing it out of perfectly valid concerns.
Except that’s not what the movie is like at all.
Right from the start, the trio of teens are shown as smart, sensible young women, who for a range of completely justifiable and realistic reasons decide they want to lose their virginity on prom night. One wants to do it with the boy she loves and has been seeing for months, one wants to have some fun and figures she might as well get it out of the way before university, and one decides to go all in because she wants to have something she can share with her friends for the rest of their lives… even though she’s secretly gay and is crushing hard on another (out) girl.
Meanwhile, the parents are either comic idiots (John Cena, Leslie Mann) whose angst is shown right from the start to be totally out of line or a dirtbag (Ike Barinholtz) who knows his daughter is gay (because he’s really a smart, attentive father) and wants to stop her from making a mistake just to be “one of the girls”. The film itself is firmly pro-sex – one of the teens even asks, “Why is sex such a big deal?” – while the idea that it’d somehow be different if it was their sons going out to get laid is brought up and trashed as a sexist double standard.
So why is the marketing selling it as the opposite of what it really is? If the idea is to surprise viewers with something they’re not expecting, why promote it as the kind of film its intended audience would actively avoid?
We review Blockers (and its weird marketing) on The Playlist
For one thing, comedies are notoriously difficult to sell. With only around two minutes to work with in a trailer, any time spent setting up a joke is wasted time. Even if a film is a slow burn character-based comedy, only the biggest and broadest moments make it into the trailer (which is probably why you don’t see many slow burn character comedies these days). Sight gags, simplistic laugh lines and gross-out moments are obvious inclusions because there’s a good chance they’ll be funny – and first and foremost the trailer has to sell audiences on the idea that the movie is going to be funny.
But let’s be honest, despite the raunchy sex comedy having undergone something of an awakening since the huge success of 2011’s Bridesmaids – see Girls Trip or recent all-girl frat film Bad Neighbours 2 for starters – there’s still a perception that the audience for these films wants to see a lot of crude behaviour in a world where men are the sexual aggressors and women are their prey. And that’s in this film – it’s just that it’s there to be mocked and made fun of.
The marketing for Blockers isn’t subtle. Comedy marketing rarely is. There’s a silhouette of a rooster – or more accurately, a cock – on the poster next to “Blockers” just to make sure you get the idea. It’s just that in this case, what makes Blockers such a funny, enjoyable comedy is exactly what’s not being marketed to audiences. Maybe it’s because the studio doesn’t think treating characters with dignity is hilarious; maybe it’s because with the limited options available they decided their first priority was to sell the idea that it has big laughs.
Either way, what they’re really doing is selling a smart and very funny comedy short.
Follow the author here