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Exclusive: 'Blockers' Composer Mateo Messina on the Challenges of Scoring a Comedy

Actor John Cena and Composer Mateo Messina
Composer Mateo Messina (center) with actors John Cena and Ike Barinholtz. (Photo: Impact24 PR)

Butt-chugging would not sound the same without the work of Mateo Messina.

In what may seem like the most awkward introduction, Blockers hit the big screen this past weekend and broke the R-rated comedy curse by becoming an instant hit with audiences. One piece of the cinematic puzzle is the score by Messina. In an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com, the prolific composer talked about scoring the comedy and working with first-time director Kay Cannon.

The film has connected with teens and adults, since the film flies on two tracks and has more heart than one expects from a raunchy, R-rated comedy. John Cena, Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz chase their 16-year-old daughters, played by Geraldine Viswanathan, Kathryn Newton and Gideon Adlon, on prom night after learning they made a pact to lose their virginity. Blockers debuted to $20.5 million on opening weekend.

Although Cannon had never directed a film before, she is more experienced than most. She wrote all three Pitch Perfect movies, worked on 30 Rock and New Girl, and created Netflix's Girlboss. With a resume like that, she did not feel like a first-time director, Mateo said.

"She knew what she wanted, but what I liked about her and what kind of made her feel like a seasoned director was actually that's she very collaborative and she would trust in the people she was working with," Messina explained. "So I felt like it was really easy to trust in her as a leader, 'cause she placed a lot of trust in those of us working on the film. But also she's just very collaborative. Like we would be in a scene and then she would go, 'What do you think of this?' That comes from experience, really."

Messina, who wrote the score to Juno (2007) and dozens of other TV shows and movies, has learned that writing music for comedies is actually much harder than dramas. Audiences know what to expect from a dramatic or horror score, but when it comes to comedy, everything can be different from movie to movie.

"Every director's different, and every director has a different tone of comedy, or even the subtleties and nuances of how they tell a joke," Messina explained. "For instance, Kay was like, 'Oh, I don't ever want any music to come close to getting on a joke. I want it to come after.' Whereas other directors I work with they're like, 'No. Play right on the joke and help us support it.' There's so many subtle differences in comedy especially."

Like any movie score, Messina crafted different themes for the characters to create fuller portraits of them. There were different themes for each parent and child pair.

Another character, Angelica (Ramona Young) got her own theme. Without giving too much away, she turns out to be the special love interest for Adlon's character. "She was a fun character, and very pivotal [for one of the characters] in the film, so I gave her her own theme, too, just because it felt so funny," Messina said.

Messina's score for Juno was heavy on guitars, but for Blockers, Messina focused on using drums and percussion, especially after he realized that the movie is one long chase scene.

"I brought in every different percussion instrument you could imagine, and we just experimented with all sorts of different things over a few different days in the studio, just covering scenes and seeing how it would feel, and trying them different ways," Messina said of the instrumentation. "The drums felt like the right instrument to feature for basically these parents. When it came down to the last few reels, the last two rails in getting the emotional beat to cross, I obviously went to different instruments than the percussion."

Blockers centers on a group of parents trying to take control of their daughters' lives at a point where they should be preparing to let go so they can make their own mistakes. "You can't control that," Messina said.

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"The conversation around sex doesn't have to be so awkward" is another point parents can get out of the film, Messina said. "It should just at least be a conversation, so the communication between parents and kids, if you can keep that open, I think your kids are going to be so much more well adjusted even around this subject of sex."

Blockers is now in theaters.