How 'Blockers' Turned A Sexist Trope Into A Liberating, Female-Led Comedy Thanks To Director Kay Cannon
Three high school seniors pledge to lose their virginities on prom night — it's a storyline we've seen over and over again. In the new R-rated comedy Blockers, though, it's not young men trying to lose their v-cards, but young women, and the ladies' parents are not happy about that fact. While female sexuality taking center stage is certainly something to celebrate, the old trope of parents desperately trying to stop their daughters from having sex is... not. Given this premise, it probably won't surprise many to learn that Blockers, out April 6, was original developed by a group of men. "I think a big reason why I was brought into the project was because there was a bunch of guys writing about women and their sexuality," director and writer Kay Cannon tells Bustle with a laugh, speaking over the phone.
Though she isn't officially credited as a writer on Blockers, Cannon, best known for her work writing the Pitch Perfect trilogy, made extensive changes to the script alongside her husband Eben Russell. Her biggest challenge: how to take the premise of parents wanting to keep their daughters chaste and make it more than a sexist trope. "The first thing that I wanted to do was give the daughters more," Cannon recalls. "Actually give them story arcs, and a beginning, middle, and an end, not only to each other but to each of their dates, and to really define who they were as women." Without that, Cannon adds, "it just becomes crazy parents trying to control their daughters."
By giving teenagers Julie, Kayla, and Sam their own story arcs, Cannon was also able to provide a new take on young female sexuality. "There’s no big deal being made [over sex]," the filmmaker says of her heroines. "They’re just making a choice and... they want to have this fun memory that they all lost their virginity on the same night."
The girls' desires to have sex are, thankfully, not depicted as sacred or precious, the way young women's sexual antics usually are on screen. As Cannon explains, she re-worked the script to ensure "that everybody's motivations were modern and very specific." Due to those changes, it's safe to say that Cannon succeeded in doing the impossible: taking a sexist trope and turning it into an empowering comedy about female sexuality. Following the premiere of Blockers at SXSW, critics were quick to praise it as a perfect film for the Me Too and Time's Up movements; though the movie was made before the modern emergence of the movements, the themes of consent and female empowerment were very much present during the development of Blockers, Cannon says.
"When working on the script and shooting the movie, all these same concepts about consent and... having agency over your own body for women and especially for young women, these were already thoughts that I was having," the director says. "It was still what we’ve been thinking forever, and what I’ve been thinking forever, and I think that it’s an underserved story that we have never been shown before.”
In addition to being one of the first mainstream comedy to focus on young women wanting to lose their virginities, Blockers is also the first in the modern wave of R-rated comedies to have a female director. Thanks to movies like Trainwreck and Bridesmaids, female voices in R-rated comedy have made themselves heard, and we've moved far beyond a time when critics could ask the question, "Are women funny?" However, when it comes to directing, Hollywood studios do still seem to be stuck on men.
"It’s all about who’s on the list. And we’re trying to expand the list," Cannon says. "The comedy director list is actually short for guys, too — studios aren’t making a ton of comedies. But, with Blockers, to get on that list and be the only woman on that list...that just has to change."
To earn a spot on that list, however, Blockers will have to be a hit at the box office, something Cannon is well aware of. "I really hope Blockers does well because it will constantly just remind [studios]... that women can direct all things, can do all things, and should be trusted, and are good for business,” she says. That's a lot of pressure to put on one's own directorial debut, but Cannon finds motivation in the "ridiculous and embarrassing amount of talented women" she hopes will come after her. Thanks to Blockers, they might just all be able to have their turn in the director's chair.