Movie reviews: 'Blockers' is a sex comedy for a new generation
Published Friday, April 6, 2018 5:56AM EDT
BLOCKERS: 3 ½ STARS
The advertising tagline for “Blockers” says it all: “Teens Out to Have Fun. Parents Out to Stop It.” Cue the hijinks as Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz play parents who go to elaborate lengths to try and disrupt their daughters’ pact to do more than just shake their hips at their prom.
The laughs in “Blockers” begin when single mom Lisa (Mann) intercepts texts—complete with suggestive eggplants and drooling faces—between her teenage daughter Julie (Kathryn Newton) and her besties, Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon). The girls have grown up together and done everything as a group. Tonight they’re on the way to prom with a plan to do more than dance. “Tonight is the first night of our adult life,” says ringleader Kayla. “I want to go to prom and lose my virginity.” Lisa alerts the other parents, the boozy Hunter (Barinholtz) and muscle bound Mitchell (Cena), to make sure everyone that’s everyone makes it home safe and untouched. “In times of crisis parents are known to have superhuman strength,” says Lisa.
“Blockers” is a very silly movie that makes several very serious points. The adult leads go heavy on the slapstick and Barinholtz in particular is skilled in finding the laugh in throwaway lines. So you’ll laugh. A lot. But in between Cena chugging beers in his butt—yup, you read that right—and Mann’s trademarked comic vulnerability are strong messages about female empowerment, about young women making their own decisions about not being damsels in distress. So, what could have been a distaff “American Pie” is something more, something that feels timely. Although Brian and Jim Kehoe wrote the script, director Kay Cannon sees to it that “Blockers” emphasises the female perspective.
“Blockers” is a sex comedy but for a new generation. Gone is the shame and guilt of “American Pie.” They’re replaced with frank and open discussions about controlling their lives—both the kids and the adults—coupled with some prerequisite heartstring plucking near the end. It’s not particularly memorable but the representation of teens as kids ruled by their brains as much as their hormones are a nice leap forward.
A QUIET PLACE: 4 STARS
Imagine living in complete silence. Never raising your voice over the level of a faint whisper. No music. No heavy footsteps. You can’t even sneeze. Silence. Then imagine your life depends on staying completely noiseless. That’s the situation for the Abbott family—and the rest of the world—in the effective new thriller “A Quiet Place.”
Real life couple John Krasinski (who also wrote, produced and directed) and Emily Blunt are Lee and Evelyn, a mother and father fighting for the survival of their kids Beau (Cade Woodward), Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) in a world where making a sound, any sound, can be deadly. Deadly blind aliens who hunt their prey through sound have invaded the world turning noisy people into human cold cuts. The family lives in silence, using sign language and eating off leaves to avoid the clinking of cutlery but what happens when a newborn baby cries? Can life go on?
The silence of the first half of “A Quiet Place” is deafening. There is no spoken dialogue for forty minutes, just dead air. In the way that many filmmakers use bombast to grab your attention Krasinski uses the absence of sound to focus the audience on the situation. Very little information is passed along. We don’t know where the aliens came from, why they’re terrorizing earth or how many there are. Ditto the Abbotts. We know nothing about them. The connection the family feels is transmitted through looks and actions, not words. This isn’t a story where character development is important; it’s a tale of survival pure and simple.
Tension grows in the first, artier half and pays dividends in the second more genre-based half. Set up out of the way Krasinski raises the stakes, putting the family directly in the way of the creatures. Like all good genre movies as the story escalates it becomes not simply about predatory monsters, all teeth and giant ears, but about a universal truth. In this case it is about a parent’s primal need to protect their kids at any cost. Krasinski nails this, providing both the b-movie thrills and chills necessary to the genre and a deep undercurrent of humanity.
He’s aided by the actors. Blunt is all poignancy and strength. Krasinski brings stoicism while the kids make us care about the family.
“A Quiet Place” is a nervy little film. Other filmmakers might have tried to find a way to wedge in more dialogue or spell things out more clearly but the beauty of Krasinski’s approach is its simplicity. Uncluttered and low key, it’s a unique and unsettling horror film.
CHAPPAQUIDDICK: 4 STARS
“Chappaquiddick,” a new film starring Jason Clarke and Kate Mara, recreates an infamous event to unveil the inner workings of one of America’s most powerful families.
Clarke, an Australian actor best known for his work in “Zero Dark Thirty,” plays Senator Ted Kennedy, the youngest son of a political dynasty. As the movie begins brothers John and Bobby have both been assassinated, gunned down while in office. It’s 1969 and Ted is eyeing a White House run in 1972.
The incident that gives the film its name took place on Friday, July 18, 1969. Kennedy threw a party on Chappaquiddick Island, a ferry ride away from Edgartown on the nearby larger island of Martha's Vineyard, as a reunion of the “boiler-room girls,” six women who were the engine of Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. Also in attendance is Kennedy's cousin (and fixer) Joseph Gargan (Ed Helms), former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Paul F. Markham (Jim Gaffigan) and political campaign specialist Mary Jo Kopechne (Mara).
While the others drank, danced and dined Kennedy and Kopechne took a fateful drive that would end when Kennedy veered off a bridge and into a tidal channel. Kennedy escaped, leaving Kopechne to drown.
What follows is the battle between Ted’s conscience and his political well-being, a mish-mash of power, influence and morality. Kennedy ultimately fessed up, pleading guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident causing bodily injury, but not before crafting a carefully worded statement and faking a concussion.
“Chappaquiddick’s” story of a weak man who panicked is a compelling one, especially when embellished with layers of political and personal intrigue. Clarke is physically imposing, a bear of a man, but plays Kennedy as a little boy. Blustery on the outside but always looking to his wheelchair-bound father (Bruce Dern) for approval. Kennedy Sr., a power broker who valued his son’s success more than the boys themselves, is only onscreen for a few minutes but his presence and influence looms large in the story.
The wheeling and dealing that surrounds the partial cover-up of Ted’s involvement in Kopechne’s passing are in part to try and protect Kennedy’s upcoming run for the White House and in part to the father of all Kennedys happy. It’s a fascinating dynamic and director John Curran finds a balance between the two high-stakes situations.
A strong supporting cast, including Ed Helms in a rare dramatic role, help pull back the curtain on the latter day Camelot, revealing the behind-the-scenes machinations that kept Ted Kennedy in the Senate and out of jail. “Chappaquiddick” is step-by-step, methodical, but the crime procedural elements of the story are second to the examination of the Kennedy power structure.
THE MIRACLE SEASON: 2 STARS
From the title on down to the story and performances “The Miracle Season” is a film that trumpets its uplifting, inspirational point of view. The story may be rooted in tragedy but this is a tale of perseverance.
In 2011 the Iowa City West High School volleyball team were champions starting a new season. Team captain Caroline 'Line' Found (Danika Yarosh) is a popular student and daughter of the kindly Dr. Ernie Found (William Hurt). “She reached out to everyone,” says coach Kathy Bresnahan (Helen Hunt), “strangers, opponents teachers, even lowly Coach. To Line they all meant the same thing, friends.” When Line is killed in an accident the team, especially best friend Kelly (Erin Moriarty), must work through their grief if they want to “Live Like Line” and take the state championship.
“Miracle Season" is exactly what you think it will be, a respectful movie that wears its heart on its sleeve. There’s barely a rough edge here anywhere, except in the underwritten script. Characters are inherently decent, inspired to be better people by the memory of their late friend. Good messages all round but it doesn’t really make for great drama. The spectre of Hallmark hangs heavy over every scene.
What’s left is Oscar winner Hunt as the tough love coach pumping her fist, mouthing the word “yes” as her team gains confidence on the court and lots of talk about winning for Line. Director Sean McNamara, who mined similar territory with Hunt in the film “Soul Surfer,” is unafraid to pluck heartstrings, often steering the story into motivational melodrama. It’s likely some tears will be wrung from the easy emotion on display, but “Miracle Season,” for all its good intentions, is a simply a generic sports movie.
ALLURE: 1 STAR
Evan Rachel Wood’s breakout movie was “Thirteen.” She played Tracy Louise Freeland, a teen who spiralled downward into a morass of drugs, sex, and petty crime. Her new film, “Allure,” is unrelated but feels like it could be a continuation of Tracy’s story.
Wood plays Laura Drake, a troubled 30-year-old woman who works for her father’s cleaning service. On one of her house calls she meets 16-year-old unhappy musical prodigy Eva (Julia Sarah Stone). As Eva’s mom (Maxim Roy) makes plans for them to move in with her boyfriend Laura befriends the girl, introducing her to pot and lending an understanding ear. When Eva explains why she is so unhappy—she doesn’t like the boyfriend and doesn’t want to move—Laura comes on strong. “You don't have to do anything you don't want to do,” she says. “You don't have to let your mother control your life!”
Seeing Eva’s tears Laura suggests a way out. “Come live with me.” Eva readily agrees and they leave without a word to anyone, including Eva’s mom. What begins as a break from Eva’s turbulent home life turns into a hostage situation when the police start poking around. “I'll go to jail if they find out what I did to help you,” Laura says as she locks her young charge in a basement room, away from prying eyes. She is now an illegal guardian, kind of like a cool aunt, only with bad intentions.
When the furor over Eva’s disappearance dies down the two return to their version of normal life. Laura, an expert manipulator controls Eva physically and emotionally. “I say what you can and cannot do,” she hisses. As time goes on, whether it is Stockholm Syndrome or true emotion, they become a romantic couple as Laura spirals further out of control.
“Allure” is relentless in its downbeat look at life and relationships. A minor chord score underlines the overwrought drama, offering no relief from the deeply unpleasant story. Unpleasant is OK if it reveals inner truths about the characters but “Allure” rarely really gets under the skin of Laura or Eva. They make inexplicable choices and most importantly, there are few moments that feel truthful.