How the leads of R-rated comedy Blockers reframed the high school virginity narrative

By
Photography Ben Taylor

Published April 9, 2018

A female-directed, R-rated comedy with three female leads blew up at the box office this past weekend. It was the third-highest opening for an R-rated comedy in the last three years. Blockers succeeded where so many films of the same genre—Rough Night, Baywatch, Snatched—have previously failed. Why? It’s unapologetically raunchy, exceedingly relatable, and will give you a hernia from laughing so damn hard. It’s a movie about three girls—Julie, Kayla and Sam—hell-bent on losing their V cards.

In the lead up to prom, the girls, played by Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon and Kathryn Newton, make a pact to have sex for the first time. When their parents discover their plans, they do everything in their power to thwart their efforts. It’s a simple concept, but scratch the surface of Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon’s directorial debut and you’ll find Blockers is an effusive coming-of-age story about sexual agency, gender equality and finding yourself.

The three leads are celebrating more than box office success. Recently, Gideon Adlon had her 21st birthday and the three got together to drink. Legally. They called up their director, Kay Cannon, afterwards to toast their blockbuster. “I don’t even fully know what that word means,” says Viswanathan, laughing. “In my head I’m just like, ‘Big movie, yes.’”

KAY CANNON: Already got a case of the giggles over this. Hi, ladies!

ALL: Hi, Kay!

KATHRYN NEWTON: We miss you today Kay!

CANNON: Aw, I miss you guys. I wanted to ask you right away how it feels getting the band back together, like all three of you together doing things.

GERALDINE VISWANATHAN: It’s the best!

CANNON: And now we just get to celebrate the movie and enjoy it. Gideon, happy birthday!

GIDEON ADLON: Thank you! Thank you, I’m 21!

CANNON: Did you guys all celebrate together?

VISWANATHAN: We went and got some cocktails.

ADLON: They thought my real I.D. was a fake I.D.

CANNON: Aww, were they like, “You’re so sophisticated…?” Oh wait, no, they think you’re too young.

ADLON: Yeah, they think I’m like 12.

VISWANATHAN: Well, she looks 12 on her I.D. She probably was 12.

CANNON: [laughs] You’re like, “I’m in this movie Blockers. It’s rated R?”

ADLON: Yeah. “You have to be 17 to see it, sooo.”

CANNON: Well, happy birthday! It’s been so exciting to read a lot of fun stuff about you guys and see so much love coming your way. How have you felt about representing the story, and reading so much about how you’re empowered ladies?

NEWTON: Well, when I first auditioned for the movie I felt like this is a really real girl. It just felt like a girl I could relate to. When we were making the film, it grew a lot and we all became really good friends, and then it just felt like we were being normal, being how girls are, and we were telling a story about young girls coming of age. I’m still so sad I couldn’t go to SXSW, I still haven’t seen it with an audience, but even just people reaching out on Twitter and Instagram, so many people are letting me know how much they love the film and how much it’s affected them. It’s just cool to see that happen.

VISWANATHAN: I’m the same. I just feel so lucky. I feel like it’s really rare to see teenagers, especially girls, that are not one dimensional, that aren’t just rolling their eyes and texting at the dinner table and being brats. It’s so cool to have these three empowered, smart young women at the front, and they’re treated with such respect in the movie.

They’re the beating heart of the film and that’s ultimately what people are connecting to. Any kind of love I get on Twitter just shows that it works and that there should be more stories like this. People are calling it refreshing and groundbreaking because it’s a new perspective, which is great.

CANNON: Gideon, what do you think?

ADLON: Yeah, I mean, Kathryn and Geraldine definitely touched on everything I wanted to say but it’s just amazing seeing three young women as the leads of this raunchy sex comedy, that are making choices about their own bodies and finding their way and really learning about themselves. And to see these three guys who play their dates being incredibly respectful about their decisions with their bodies and not getting angry and actually listening to them and wanting to be respectful. This movie touches on so many things that need to be talked about and normalized in the world right now, and are normalized in the film, like LGBTQ, and there’s a biracial family. I just think the whole thing is important and I’m so proud to be apart of it.

VISWANATHAN: Yeah, it’s so rare to have like … because Asians are so desexualized in the media, and they never end up as the romantic interest of anyone, and are never talking about their sex lives, so that is an interesting element of it too that was brought to my attention. I was like, “Oh! I really didn’t even think about that,” but you know what, you’re right, it is cool and different.

NEWTON: On set you (Kay Cannon) really created this environment where anything went, and we were never scared. I never had any fear, and that’s because of you, and Geraldine and Gideon. They went for it so I went for it, and I remember the scene where we decide to make the sex pact, and how many different ways we did it. I remember thinking, “Is it going too far? Is the joke too raunchy?” And then I was like, actually this is how me and my best friends talk. And it isn’t too far. The reason I was thinking it was was because I’ve never seen anything like this before. I’ve never seen girls in a movie talk like this before, so, in that way, it was a little revolutionary. It’s pretty cool to be like, “Yeah, we were in that. We did that.”

CANNON: You know what’s interesting about the word raunchy, I am certain I’m wrong about this and I’ve just worked on the movie and seen it a gazillion times, like every little nook and cranny, so I have maybe become desensitized, but I just never think about it as a raunchy movie. [laughs]

VISWANATHAN: And I never, ever felt like any joke we did on set, even when we were just messing around, was too much. Like, no! It’s impossible to go too far, it’s all just fun.

CANNON: It harkens back to how I felt with my friends in the cafeteria, around the table in high school. I sat with the same girlfriends all four years of high school and that is how we talked. So when people are like, “It’s raunchy, it’s filthy, it’s vile,” [laughs] I’m like, “Oh no … am I just a raunchy person who talks like that all the time?”

VISWANATHAN: No, I’m always talking about dicks looking like plungers. All the time. [everyone laughs]

CANNON: Okay, so if one day you grow up and have a daughter, and you find out that she’s in a sex pact, how do you think you’d react?

NEWTON: Huh.

VISWANATHAN: Well, that’s the thing, I can totally understand where the parents are coming from, because it is a scary world and that’s all coming to the surface now. Like the power disparity between men and women, it’s all changing for the better I feel, but if I was a parent I’d want to meet him, I’d want to make sure he was alright. [Cannon laughs]

NEWTON: I was just gonna say that I would want to hope that my daughter was staying true to herself. And if that’s what she wanted, it’d be cool if she told me but I don’t think I’d expect her to. Maybe I’d hope she would tell me after. I would just wanna be a cool mom.

CANNON: [laughs] Yeah, you just want your kid to love herself. And also your kid’s gotta mess up.

NEWTON: I feel like my mom was really understanding with all that stuff. She definitely sat me down and had the talk, and the way she went about it really built trust in our relationship and I think that that’s really important. So I’d definitely let my kids know that I trust them and then they can trust me. I hope they’d tell me when they wanna lose their virginities, you know?

CANNON: As I listen to the three of you today—I felt this way every time you came on set, and whenever the three of you are together, and when the three of you are in conversation—you don’t sound like what has typically been put on screen before. The example I’ll give is like, talking like this, “Like, oh my God mom. You. Are. Driving me crazy.”

VISWANATHAN: [laughs] “OMG.”

CANNON: Which is not how my friends talked to me. I feel like it’s been generations. There is a specific person who talks like that, it’s not that it doesn’t exist, but the average young woman doesn’t talk like that. I think maybe we get into the apologizing “ending on a question mark talk?” I think that’s something that exists in our society with women. I don’t know if you want to talk about how you feel like you’ve been depicted, I know we touched on this already, about how it feels groundbreaking, which is so weird to me because you’re just talking like regular people, you know? [laughs] Like, to me there’s not a hidden, secret dialogue or something. People are like, “How are you able to write for them?” as though you guys are dinosaurs or something. “How were you able to write for the dinosaurs? You don’t even know how they talk because you’re an older lady.”

NEWTON: I think the thing you did for us was you gave us an opportunity to just play real people. These characters are not stereotypes. You can’t stereotype any of them. And my favorite part is that each girl, in the end, does what’s true for herself, you know? Kayla realizes that she’s not ready, and I love that she does, and she’s okay with that. And Julie is ready, and she has a boyfriend that she wants to do that with so she does. But there’s no pressure, and they’re not doing it for silly reasons. They’re doing it because it’s who they are.

VISWANATHAN: I feel like this subject matter, virginity loss in high school, I always feel like the girls are one extreme or the other. They’re either the prudish virgin girl or the slut who sleeps with everyone. That’s totally what I love about our three storylines, how it is so complex and dynamic and it can be whatever you want it to be, and really removing that stigma. It’s just so cool to see that in a huge blockbuster comedy.

CANNON: Well, let’s hope it’s a blockbuster. [laughs]

VISWANATHAN: I don’t even fully know what that word means. [laughs] In my head I’m just like, big movie, yes. [Cannon laughs]

CANNON: Gideon, I have a question for you, because your character is working through something, is confused about her sexuality and really trying to figure it out. What has that—I felt like we didn’t have a gazillion conversations about this, right?

ADLON: Yeah. I definitely didn’t wanna mess it up. I wanted it to be like, this is a girl in high school who’s trying to figure herself out and she has a crush. She has a crush like any other kid has a crush, it just happens to be on another girl. I wanted to normalize it and just show that it’s okay to be confused and it’s okay to try things and figure yourself out. Obviously, Sam didn’t just decide all of this on prom night. I wanted it to show that Sam had been struggling with this for a long time and I think it came across very, very genuine.

The whole thing, I just didn’t want it to be cheesy, I didn’t want it to be over the top. So far the feedback I’ve received is that it’s really touched people, or some people have told me they’ve come out to their families because of it, or they wish they had this movie years ago when they were in high school and they could’ve been open with their friends, knowing that it’s okay and that if they’re my friends, they’re gonna love and support me, and my parents will love and support me. For me.

BLOCKERS IS IN THEATERS NOW.