Writer/producer Kay Cannon directed Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Kathryn Newton in the raucous new Blockers, which explores the tenderness of parenthood, coming out, and sexual consent.
And puking. A lot of puking. Cannon’s turn on raunch and punchy, hilarious parenting crises and prom night isn’t just electrifying from its performances and the view from the box office: It’s a highlight for representation. Cannon — writer/producer of the Pitch Perfect franchise, Girlboss, and 30 Rock — is one of the extremely few women to have been tapped to direct a major studio R-rated comedy in the U.S. “I don’t know if this movie would’ve happened five years ago,” Cannon told audiences at the film’s premiere in Austin last month, during the South By Southwest Film Festival. “I definitely wouldn’t have directed it.”
Below, Cannon tells EW about what a woman’s touch brings to female friendship and butt chugging.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Talk about casting John Cena, and why his comedy mode jibes with yours.
KAY CANNON: He is so accessible to everyone, which is what makes him such a successful wrestler and human being. I think a lot of dads see themselves in him. We changed the character in the script to be this big guy who cries, a stay-at-home dad. John’s an athlete for sure, but in the wrestling world, they’re performers. They understand timing and there’s acting involved that you won’t see in, like, a basketball player.
What from your own childhood and growing up did you bring into this film?
Kayla [Geraldine Viswanathan] and Mitchell [Cena], that was a lot like me. I was confident and cocky like Kayla. I was an athlete and had the trophies on the wall and my dad was very proud of me. And I was very disciplined, I was very sports-oriented, did speech and math club and president of student council, I was in everything. End of senior year, I then was like…time to party.
Why is it important to tout that this is a woman-directed R-rated comedy?
When you talk about representation and you can list on about one hand the number of women directing in this arena, that’s why you shout about it. It’s so people making decisions will start to seek out women, just as I was sought out for this. We need to keep giving people their shots. Hopefully Blockers will do good business, and if it does good business, it will make less people afraid to make the choice.
The choices you made in this film, were there some that you think a guy making this movie wouldn’t have done in the same way?
There were a lot. There were all male producers, mostly male studio execs, then there was me. I worked with great great guys who were so supportive and respectful. But there’d be times like, “Kayla needs to say to Connor that she wants to have sex with him before she has a sip of alcohol,” and they’d say, “Well why?” “Because then it’s not consent. We need to make sure she gives it.” They’re great guys, and they don’t have to think about something like that, but I think about it all the time. I think of conversations where I say, “Guys, that’s not how female friendships work.”
Gideon Adlon’s character Sam struggles with her sexuality in this film. Did you know you wanted a queer storyline in this from the get-go?
Yes. My husband, Evan Russell, and I worked on the script [written by Brian and Jim Kehoe] and it was something we added in that we thought was a great difference between the three girls, showing three totally different experiences. We wanted to show what it’d be like for a father considering to out his daughter, and wanted to make sure I’m being sensitive to what this female character is feeling, feeling confused.
That’s not something we often see with young men in something like Superbad.
Yeah, and Superbad was 10 years ago and sexual orientation wasn’t talked about as much as it is now.
Were there any gags you knew you wanted to make sure made the film like, well, penis and balls?
This is gonna sound crazy, but I wanted to show male genitalia and not show female genitalia. There is a full-frontal thing, and that was all Gary Cole’s [idea]. I didn’t think at all that’d end up in the movie. I shot it as an insert, but then I needed a big laugh and reaction to get out of that scene and I ended up using it.
And I gotta say, I have to really look at myself when I say this: In Pitch Perfect, I had a lot of puke in that first movie and I came up with that first sequence. I have a real thing about girls and women drinking in movies, I just think they drink way too much and I’d be in the hospital if I drank that much. At proms and dances and with inexperienced drinkers, there’s a lot of puking. I wanted in a funny way for kids to get away from their parents and I came up with this sequence in this. Do I just like puking on screen? Because a lot of people don’t.