SXSW has gained a reputation for premiering R-rated comedies that go on to earn $100 million or more at the domestic box office, but this year’s prospect, “Blockers,” is the first from a female director.
“I’m so happy to be here and I am a woman,” Kay Cannon informed the Paramount Theatre crowd immediately before Saturday night’s premiere. “I directed something. And it’s rated R! And a comedy! And it’s soon-to-be released. I feel pretty good about that.” A former “30 Rock” writer, Cannon also wrote or co-wrote the “Pitch Perfect” trilogy and created Netflix’s now-canceled “Girlboss.”
During the post-screening Q&A, the first-time director thanked Point Grey, fellow production company Good Universe, and distributor Universal Pictures “for hiring me based off of potential,” something that “doesn’t happen to a lot with ladies.”
Like prior SXSW hits, this one has a Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen connection: Apatow produced “Bridesmaids” and directed “Trainwreck;” Seth Rogen’s Point Grey Pictures produced “Neighbors,” “Sausage Party,” and now “Blockers,” which stars Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann.
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
“Blockers” stars two trios: a group of female high school seniors intent on losing their virginities (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon), and the parents out to stop them (Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz). Supporting players include Hannibal Buress, June Diane Raphael (“Grace and Frankie”), Sarayu Blue, Gina Gershon, and Gary Cole (“Veep”).
Actors Mann, Cena, Viswanathan, Adlon, and Miles Robbins joined their director onstage (absent Barinholtz, who is “expecting his third child any moment now”). When Mann read the script, she said her daughter Maude Apatow was college-bound, “so I really relate. She’s here now, she wants to drop out, but she’s not going to.” Now 20, Maude Apatow made her directorial debut at the recent Santa Barbara International Film Festival with the short “Don’t Mind Alice.” The script also wasn’t a stretch for Cena, a pro wrestler: “Was it easy for me to play a matter-of-fact big dude who was put in awkward situations? Yes.”
Cannon and her husband and co-writer, Eben Russell, have a four-year-old daughter. “No matter how progressive I am as a parent, I still am worried about the day that she decides to have sex,” Cannon said. “And we’re in a movement right now — Time’s Up and #MeToo — there’s a reason for this fear,” as well as the double standard that exists for men and women being sexually active.
While “there’s plenty of movies that take it from the male perspective of losing your virginity” — including 2007’s “Superbad,” produced by Apatow and starring Rogen — Cannon said she approached this material, “not so much like, ‘This time it’s ladies!’ but just, ‘This is their experience, and this is an underserved story.’. I hope that [‘Blockers’] opens up a conversation and bridges this gap where we can start to treat women as humans, as opposed to sexual objects or no thoughts, no feelings, just objects of desire; that there’s an agency over their decisions and their choices, and they’re in control of their own bodies.”
Universal Pictures will release “Blockers” on April 6.