How 'Blockers' redefines the prom-night comedy with talk of consent and John Cena's bare butt

Gwynne Watkins
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, and Leslie Mann in Blockers. (Photo: Quantrell D. Colbert/Universal Studios)

“I lost my virginity on this movie,” jokes first-time director Kay Cannon, talking to Yahoo Entertainment about her uproarious new comedy Blockers. Cannon isn’t exactly inexperienced when it comes to comedy: The three-time Emmy nominee got her start performing with the Upright Citizens Brigade and has worked as a leading writer and producer on 30 Rock, New Girl, and the Pitch Perfect films. But Blockers, about three teenage girls who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night and the three parents (played by Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz) who try to stop them, is her first time behind the camera. And as Universal has proudly pointed out, she’s only the sixth woman ever to direct a film like this.

“I mean, it’s very specific: rated-R, studio-released comedies. But the truth is, it’s all terrible statistics, because there’s just not a lot of female directors at all,” Cannon acknowledges. “But that’s what makes me hope that the movie does well, because it will hopefully open up more doors for us ladies to get that shot. I was hired based off of potential — and I think that that happens a lot for guys. It’s so rare that it happens for ladies.”

Blockers (which has a silhouette of a rooster before the title in the logo — get it?) benefited from having a female director in some significant, and perhaps unexpected, ways. When Cannon signed on, the screenplay by brothers Jim and Brian Kehoe was so focused on the parents (originally three dads) that the teenagers who make the sex pact came off as “three random girls.”

“The biggest change that was made was beefing up the daughters’ roles,” Cannon says. “That was important, to see what made them funny, what makes them individuals. And so Julie (Kathryn Newton) became romantic, and Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) was sporty and confident, and Sam (Gideon Adlon) is the insecure one who’s debating her sexuality — all that was added into the script to really showcase them and get their point of view and understanding the value of telling that story. That’s the biggest reason to do this movie, you know?”

As Cannon realized, most loss-of-virginity comedies are told from the perspective of teenage boys (with a few exceptions, like Easy A and The To-Do List) — so by putting teenage girls’ hopes and desires at the center of the story, Blockers immediately sets itself apart. Along with that decision, Cannon made sure that the film modeled enthusiastic consent — for example, that the girls clearly announce their intentions to their prom dates before imbibing any alcohol, and that the boys never pressure them into sex acts.

“There were a lot of great conversations between myself and the producers. There were many times it would be, like, myself and 12 guys,” Cannon says with a laugh. “I remember us having the discussion about consent, because this is stuff that they don’t have to think about … I hope it will be a nice example for teens to watch.”

Another way that Cannon decided to defy normal sex-comedy tropes was to include more male than female nudity. “If it’s going to be a rated-R sex comedy, the typical ones would show a lot of boobs. Well, I didn’t want to do that,” says Cannon. For a scene the director describes as “naked Marco Polo” (we won’t spoil it), actress Gina Gershon opted for partial nudity, but her onscreen husband, Gary Cole (known to comedy aficionados as the boss from Office Space), was game for the full monty. “Gary was like on board,” Cannon says, laughing. “So that just kind of happened organically, where he thought that was super funny. And the more naked they were, the funnier it was to us.”

Another male star who had no qualms about showing his bod was John Cena, whose rear end makes its big-screen debut in Blockers. “He’s so muscular that it sort of looks like he’s wearing spandex — it doesn’t look like a real butt!” says Cannon about the pro wrestler turned actor. “Somebody asked me if that was a butt double for John. I was like, are you kidding? Where would we find that person?”

Jokes aside, Cannon hopes that studio films with a female point of view will not always be considered anomalies. In fact, as the writer of all three Pitch Perfect films, Cannon has seen firsthand that there is a worldwide audience for stories written by, directed by, and starring women. But she also thinks that the groundbreaking success of that franchise has yet to be truly acknowledged by the film industry.

“I think that in some weird way, the narrative around Pitch Perfect might be like, well, it’s this cutesy musical comedy that has girl power and sisterhood,” she says. “But they’re not realizing the great business that it did. I feel like there’s a little bit of patting on the head of the franchise, as opposed to like, hey, the budgets were really low, and the domestic and international sales are significantly higher than the budgets.”

With Blockers, Cannon once again proves that girls’ stories can be as inspiring, raunchy, and laugh-out-loud funny as any other. If Hollywood doesn’t pay attention, it’s literally their loss.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment: