Blockers 2018 ***

blockersAnother decent revival for Netflix, Kay Cannon’s Blockers is a low-brow comedy which was something of a secret success on initial cinema release; without making too many headlines, this Seth Rogen-produced romp made nearly $100 million worldwide on what looks like a fairly frugal budget. Rogen’s influence is apparent in the way the film quickly lapses into sophomoric humour, but there’s also traces of his Rabelaisian wit and deft approach to coming-of age. And what’s specifically interesting about Blockers is that it’s a sex comedy that focuses on the parents who want to stop their children having sex after their prom night; sympathies have turned upside down since the sex comedies of the 80’s (Porky’s, Ricky Business).

Leslie Mann is Lisa Decker, a mother horrified when she realises that her daughter has a pact with two other friends to lose her virginity. Lisa pals up with Mitchel (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), a comic who looks like a Mark Wahlberg that’s been left out in the rain, and who projects an ideally dishevelled persona for this kind of hi-jinks. If Superbad was about how difficult it is to cause mischief, Blockers is much more interested in the suppressive efforts of the parents than the teenagers themselves; cinema in 2018 is more about re-enforcing the status quo than challenging authority.

Blockers is carefully gender balanced, but that doesn’t stop Mann and Cena giving stand-out star performances, the best in their careers to date.  And while Rogen has been accused of falling back on cameos rather than jokes, as many comics do when the ideas run thin, the cameos from Gary Cole and Gina Gershon hit the right, dirty tone. Blockers is a easy watch, full of crude slapstick, but with it’s heart in the right place. Cannon graduates from the 30 Rock/Pitch Perfect universe with some skill here; Rogen’s trio-adventure format may be wearing thin, but Cannon deserves credit for managing to casually tap into the comedy audience that the far more accomplished Booksmart failed to capture.

Rumble Fish 1983 ***

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‘What is this, another glorious battle for the kingdom?’ ; Mickey Rourke’s performance as the Motorcycle Boy is just one of the attractions of Francis Ford Coppola’s teen movie for adults, adapted from the book by SE Hinton. Rusty James (Matt Dillon) is a disaffected youth, caught up in gang culture, frustrated with his boozing father (Dennis Hopper) and living in the shadow of his brother (Rourke). Unlike Coppola’s version of Hinton’s The Outsiders, swathed in golden light and nostalgia, Rumble Fish is harsh, tough and uses black and white photography and a percussive soundtrack to suggest the barren landscapes of teenage rebellion. Nicholas Cage, Diana Lane and Laurence Fishburne are amongst the revels, while Tom Waits flips burgers at the local diner.

Fired Up! 2009 ***

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PG 13 shenanigans abound in writer/director Will Gluck’s likable comedy, that looks like a leering sex-comedy but actually has a more respectable content than the premise suggests. Two jocks (Nicholas D’Agosto and Eric Christian Olsen) somehow wrangle their way into training at a cheerleaders camp, but their plays for a lusty deflowering of the local girls are waylaid when they fall in love, not just with their female team-makers but with the business of cheerleading itself. Phillip Baker Hall and AnnaLynne McCord are overqualified support, but Fired Up! Has an easy charm to the sunny escapades of the boys; it’s rare for a sex comedy to treat the macho posturings of the boys with disrespect, and Gluck’s film actually has more respect for women that the genre normally allows.

Beautiful Girls 1996 ***

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The late, great Ted Demme was a super director (Blow) and a genuinely nice guy who died before he could really make his mark; working from a script by Scott Rosenberg, he created one of the warmest drams about growing up in Beautiful Girls, which sees pianist Willie (Timothy Hutton) returning to his snowy home-town to meet up with old pals (including Matt Dillon) and reflect on where things went wrong in his life. The inhabitants of Knights Ridge teach Willie a lesson in life, not least teenage neighbour Marty (Natalie Portman) who reminds him why beautiful girls have such a role in his existence. Mira Sorvino and Uma Thurman ensure that Beautiful Girls makes good on its title; a forerunner to Garden State, Demme’s film is smart, melancholic and a welcome slice of introspection in the vein of Five Easy Pieces.

Adventureland 2009 ***

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Writer/director Greg Mottola’s follow up to Superbad doesn’t feature the same off-kiler, scabrous energy, but that’s no bad thing; the hero of Advertureland, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), is a much mellower character, and his ambitions go beyond drinking and partying. Back in 1987, his ambitions lie in trying to hold down a summer job at the Adventureland theme park, with romance with Em (Kristen Stewart) a welcome distraction for discovering that the skewed rules of nailed-down coconuts are representative of the school of hard knocks that life is to offer him. Despite support from Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, Adventureland is something more sensitive than a knockabout comedy, a rites of passage drama that’s as authentic and slightly grubby as the theme-park T-shirt Brennan wears throughout.

Heathers 1988 ****

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Coming on the back of John Hughes’ success, essentially creating the teen movie as a genre that didn’t rely on sex or schmaltz, Michael Lehmann’s 1988 film brought a new black humour and spiky with the high school. Veronica (Wynona Ryder) struggles to deal with the cliques at her school, notably the trio of girls called heather who have a tight control over the social scene. JD (Christian Slater, doing his best Jack Nicholson) feels the same, but has a more direct approach; bumping off those who get in his way. The wave of high-school shootings has soured the joke of Heathers to some extent, but Lehmann’s film is more of a comic parable; with acidic and quotable dialogue (I’ll call you when the shuttle lands’), it’s the jumping-off point for everything from Mean Girls to Easy A.

Submarine 2011 ***

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British cinema churns out teenager-coming-of age flicks like there’s no tomorrow, but writer/director Richard Ayoade pulled off something striking and original in his 2011 adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s novel. Craig Roberts is Oliver, an anxious but imaginative 15 year old who longs for romance and sex in equal measure, and who develops a tentative relationship with Jordana (Yasmin Paige). He’[s distracted by the troubled relationship between his parents, with his mother (Sally Hawkins) seemingly under the spell of an old boyfriend (Paddy Considine). Considine’s Graham Purvis, a faith-healer and mystic whose motives appear suspect, has moved in next door, and Ayoade manages to convincingly portray the static agony of growing up in a way that’s far less sweet than a conventional teen movie, right down to a stunning final shot that nails’ Oliver’s development in one starling, moving image. Cleverly deflating its own pretentions, Submarine is a minor Welsh drama that’s suffused with the pleasures and pains of real teenage life.