Warning: Blockers plot details ahead.
Love, Simon made history this year by becoming the first gay teen rom-com released by a major studio, 20th Century Fox. This is no small victory for representation. Since its March 16 release, the film has accumulated over $37 million in domestic box office sales and offered a groundbreaking coming-out story that will help a generation of LGBT youth and their parents.
As the old saying goes — when it rains, it pours. Amazingly, another queer teen’s journey of self-discovery has made it to the big screen within weeks of Love, Simon’s debut. (The staffers at GLAAD, the LGBT media organization that routinely reports a near-absence of queer visibility in movie theaters, must be pinching themselves.) It arrives in an unlikely package: Blockers, a Seth Rogen-produced sex comedy about three parents trying to preserve the virginity of their daughters on prom night.
Surprisingly, there are a striking number of similarities between Love, Simon and Blockers. Both recount coming-of-age tales of closeted teens who are unsure how to tell their friends and family members about their identity. Both queer characters fall for a person of a different race. Both stories end in a triumphant kiss.
Yet while Love, Simon marketed itself on its gay content — a viral advertising campaign featured personalized coming-out billboards for the residents of various cities as well as same-sex flirtations with social media influencers — Blockers has included no mention of this storyline in its marketing materials. In the film, it unfolds amid a succession of R-rated high jinks, which include John Cena undergoing an alcohol enema and Leslie Mann leading a high-speed chase of a limo full of vomiting teenagers. In between laughs, the audience is surprised to see the tender heart of this raunchy comedy: an estranged father (Ike Barinholtz) encouraging his teen daughter, Sam (Gideon Adlon), to finally speak her truth and seek out love.
Several outlets have also remarked upon this “unexpected gay romance” — including Vanity Fair, which wondered if Hollywood “may have finally broken through a taboo big-budget studio filmmakers have been trying hard to crack for the past few years.” Until recently, these stories have been almost nonexistent in mainstream movies — or, as in the cases of Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, and Ghostbusters — they fall to the cutting-room floor.
Universal Studios, which produced Blockers, had no such qualms. “There was no pushback on it!” Kay Cannon, the film’s director, marveled to Vanity Fair. In a sign of the power of intersectionality, the world has this female director to thank for Sam. The original script by Jim and Brian Kehoe did not include a gay storyline, and it was her input that changed that. “It was my idea to make Sam gay and that was one of the biggest changes. When I received the script, the mom was already there. But there was very, very little for the daughters. I wanted to show three completely different relatable stories of who represents high school girls,” Cannon explained.
The creative choice gave Sam’s character added dimension, as her journey is not only to join her friends in their “#SexPact2018.” She must also confront her own sexual identity, while finding the courage to tell her straight friends. “Sam’s story was always leading with this idea of being worried that she wouldn’t connect with her friends because they were losing their virginity to guys and she wasn’t ready to lose her virginity, let alone confront her sexuality, and so she’s full of fear,” Cannon said.
In Love, Simon, Simon’s parents had no clue about his sexuality — and the closeted youth went through pained efforts to be just like everyone else. But even when closeted, Sam is refreshingly not heteronormative. She Photoshops herself into Xena: Warrior Princess posters. Rather than shying away from queer classmates, like Simon, she flirts with the school’s out cosplay princess, Angelica (Ramona Young). And whereas Simon is outed, Sam reveals herself to her friends in her own terms — with the support of her father, Hunter, who knew all along.
Blockers is no exemplar of LGBT representation in cinema. There are some gay jokes that may ruffle some feathers, including a scene where John Cena has to overcome an ick factor to grab a man’s genitalia.
But by including Sam’s story in a mainstream comedy that has already garnered over $20 million at the U.S. box office, Blockers has accomplished something extraordinary. There’s a human face to the struggle of coming out that every LGBT person knows but rarely sees reflected on the big screen. Moreover, audience members who may have avoided a “gay” film like Love, Simon will go, they’ll laugh, and maybe they’ll have a change of heart. Hopefully, Hollywood will have one too.
DANIEL REYNOLDS is a senior editor at The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @dnlreynolds.