THE STORY – Follows two unpopular girls in their senior year who start a fight club to try to impress and hook up with cheerleaders.
THE CAST – Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Ruby Cruz, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Miles Fowler, Marshawn Lynch, Dagmara Dominiczyk & Punkie Johnson
THE TEAM – Emma Seligman (Director/Writer) & Rachel Sennott (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 92 Minutes
Ah, the high school comedy! A staple of American cinema, these films tend to become generational touchstones in the way many other types of films don’t because they have to perfectly capture the culture of the moment in which they’re made in order to play to their target audience. These are the films we see and quote with our friends all the time when they get released and then rewatch for decades. We may age, but the films never do, and while with enough time and distance, we can cringe-laugh at elements of them (the fashions, the slang, the fact that we ever thought that these people looked like high schoolers), the best ones have a timeless quality to them because they capture something universally true about being a teenager, the worst, most confusing time in nearly everyone’s life.
Enter Emma Seligman’s “Bottoms.” Sure, you could talk about how the film (co-written with “Shiva Baby” collaborator and star Rachel Sennott) is a love letter to the losers, the outcasts, the people who don’t fit in with any clique in high school for no reason other than that they are so unsure of themselves that they don’t know how to act otherwise – the people on the bottom of the high school food chain. You could talk about how the film excoriates our culture’s obsession with sports and winning at all costs. You could talk about how the film flips the genre on its head by giving the horndog roles traditionally associated with men (“Porky’s” & “Superbad”) to queer women. But really, “Bottoms” will live forever as people’s favorite movie because it’s just plain funny. Really, really funny. Gut-bustingly funny. So funny that you’ll miss a lot of jokes because of the laughter. So funny that you’ll find some new hilarious detail every time you watch it. It is funny in every way that a film can be funny, with visual gags covering every corner of the frame, scalpel-sharp social satire, a parody of other high school comedies, raucous gross-out humor, remarkable physical comedy, cringe comedy, witty wordplay… it’s all there, wrapped up in an unforgettable story that pushes the boundaries of teen comedy farther than you might have thought possible.
“Bottoms” follows best friends PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), who are just starting their senior year of high school. PJ, the more confident of the two, has declared that this will be the year they finally make out with the popular hot cheerleaders they have crushes on, and eventually stumbles into a plan to make it happen: The two will lead an after-school self-defense/women’s empowerment club in which the members will learn from each other how to both throw a punch and take one. Essentially, high school fight club. While at first, PJ laments that the only girls who joined were sixes at best, a misunderstanding about PJ and Josie spending the summer in juvenile detention gets blown out of proportion through the high school rumor mill. Eventually, their crushes join the club, too. Will either of them actually hook up with their crush? Will they be able to teach the club members enough self-defense techniques to protect themselves from the rival school football team that is apparently terrorizing young women all over town?
Even that plot description doesn’t do the film justice. Seligman and Sennott’s screenplay goes to some truly bizarre places, sometimes pushing the satire and parody so far that it gives the film a surreal quality. The club holds a fundraiser car wash/used panties sale. The male history teacher who ends up advising the club (a hilarious Marshawn Lynch) tells his class to reenact the Treaty of Versailles while he reads a porno mag to help himself move past his divorce. The football players are always wearing their uniforms but never seem to actually play football, with the standard-issue hunk of a quarterback far more concerned about his popularity and his dick than about the game. The film’s production design is genius, lining the school hallways with posters satirizing the sexualization of athletes (the team’s main slogan is seemingly “GET HORNY”) and advertising some ridiculous school clubs and events. Nearly every square inch of the frame is packed with jokes, from those posters to some irreverent action happening in the background.
The film is so densely funny that it can be overwhelming at times, but when the hilarity takes a brief rest to let us have a touching moment with the girls, it lands due to Seligman’s brilliant direction and the heart of the performers. Former sketch comedy partners Sennott and Edebiri have fantastic chemistry and are sharp comediennes, but they’re sensitive actors, too, and the moments when PJ and Josie have to drop the facade and get real with themselves, each other and their new friends hit home because they know how to let those moments breathe. Each cast member is hilarious in their own way, and they work strongly together as a true ensemble, building relationships with each other that feel deeply real.
All of this would mean little without a solid directorial hand, and Seligman is more than up to the task. Her tight control of tone ensures that even when the plot goes off the rails, the film itself stays firmly on track, never succumbing to its too-muchness. “Bottoms” has a lot more on its mind than what you might expect, and that’s great, but it goes about saying what it wants to communicate with its tongue firmly in its cheek all the way through. Seligman essentially explodes the high school comedy from the inside out, keeping the traditional genre outline but coloring inside that outline so wildly and with such bright colors that it almost becomes something else. Delectably raunchy, defiantly queer, and most of all deliriously funny, “Bottoms” is a new high school comedy classic.