A gross-out teen comedy with a heart of queer girl gold: The unexpected LGBTQ virtue of Blockers
A decade after Superbad, a new female spin on the 'sex pact' premise shows sometimes we can have nice things
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
Doing press rounds for Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising a few years ago, Seth Rogen essentially apologized for jokes in his semi-autobiographical screenplay for Superbad that "are bordering on blatantly homophobic at times." It was a welcome and all-too-rare gesture, even if "bordering" might be a not-so-strong word. This clip when Jonah Hill's Seth calls Christopher Minitz-Plasse's Fogell "Faggel" or this one when Seth recalls his childhood obsession of drawing penises to Michael Cera's Evan with a whole lot of gay panic on both sides are just a few instances in which Superbad seemed fully across the border into blatant homophobia-land.
Superbad — which followed teenage boys determined to lose their virginity before graduation — obviously wasn't an outlier in 2007, nor would it be one now. Teen comedies have always been heavily reliant on homophobia for cheap humour, though to his credit Rogen has been involved in a few of the most notable exceptions. Both the aforementioned Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising and its predecessor Neighbours are exceptionally LGBTQ-positive films that are worth re-visiting (I even went so far as to call the latter "the gayest movie of the summer" in 2014). Both films perhaps helped pave the way for what is easily the most virtuously queer studio-released teen comedy (or maybe even comedy of any kind) ever released: the Rogen-produced Blockers, which came out this past weekend and is already making a lot of money.
If you've only seen the trailer for Blockers, you're probably wondering if I'm talking about the same movie. It was basically marketed as a female version of Superbad's virginity-pact plot, except this time parents are involved trying to foil the teen fun. Which, to a degree, is exactly what Blockers is. But within it is also an incredibly sweet coming-out story, one I personally found much more touching than the one at the centre of last month's much more obviously LGBTQ-themed Love, Simon — though, frankly, I'm just happy there's a contest.
(If you haven't seen Blockers and would rather go in unspoiled, perhaps this is a good time to stop reading this article.)
Blockers follows three teenage girls (Gideon Adlon, Kathryn Newton and Geraldine Viswanathan) who mutually decide that they will all lose their virginity on prom night, only to have their parents (Ike Barinholtz, Leslie Mann and John Cena) find out about #sexpact2018 when one of them leaves their iMessage window open on their laptop. The parents go on a race to stop this from happening (hence the film's title) and hilarity obviously ensues.
But while Mann and Cena's character's motivations are more or less because they don't think their daughters are ready for sex, Barinholtz immediately makes clear — with no morsel of judgment — that he is in this quest for a whole other reason: he knows his daughter is gay (even if she hasn't told him yet), and he doesn't want her to have sex just to adhere to the heteronormative standards of society. His paternal instincts prove correct, as Barinholtz's on-screen daughter Sam (played by Adlon — notably daughter of Better Things creator Pamela Adlon) is really only in on the pact to maintain her closet.
Sam's storyline — which receives equal screentime to that of her straight counterparts — eventually evolves into a wonderful narrative of queer self-actualization, with Barinholtz's support aiding her to get there. She decides against sleeping with her lesbian beard prom date, instead sealing the film's climax by kissing her cosplay princess crush Angelica (Ramona Young).
It was my idea to make Sam gay and that was one of the biggest changes. When I received the script, the mom was already there. But there was very, very little for the daughters. I wanted to show three completely different relatable stories of who represents high school girls.- Kay Cannon, Blockers director
Interestingly, in the film's original script (then regrettably, I'm sure, called Cherries), Sam was not queer. When Kay Cannon (writer of the Pitch Perfect films) came on board to direct it, she told Vanity Fair that it was her (uncredited) re-write that decided Sam was queer (and I suspect also gave the film more nuance with regard to female perspectives across the board).
"It was my idea to make Sam gay and that was one of the biggest changes. When I received the script, the mom was already there. But there was very, very little for the daughters. I wanted to show three completely different relatable stories of who represents high school girls," Cannon says in the article.
Blockers isn't perfect. Despite Cannon's rewrite, there are still a few scenes that still border on homophobic (though perhaps less blatantly so), like the one involving John Cena having to chug beer through his anus that is very much present in the trailer. But what I love so much about its existence is that the people who come into the theatre for that butt-chuggling scene will also get to witness Sam's thoughtful queer awakening — and maybe even find themselves tearing up when she gets her big kiss.