Bottoms (2023, dir. Emma Seligman)

by | Oct 31, 2023

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 91 mins

UK Distributor: Warner Bros

UK Release Date: 3 November 2023

WHO’S IN BOTTOMS?

Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Ruby Cruz, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Miles Fowler, Marshawn Lynch, Dagmara Domińczyk, Punkie Johnson, Zamani Wilder, Summer Joy Campbell, Virginia Tucker, Wayne Péré

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Emma Seligman (director, writer), Rachel Sennott (writer), Elizabeth Banks, Max Handelman and Alison Small (producers), Leo Birenberg and Charli XCX (composers), Maria Rusche (cinematographer), Hanna Park (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Two unpopular queer friends (Sennott and Edebiri) form a female fight club to get close to their cheerleader crushes…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON BOTTOMS?

There have been a lot of great teen comedies over the last few years, some of them even becoming modern-day classics, but the majority of them are often pretty safe in both tone and content. This is especially when one compares them to the teen movies of the 70s and 80s, when the likes of Porky’s, Weird Science, The Hollywood Knights and Animal House dominated with their outrageous and decisively un-PC style of humour which, despite much of it not aging very well, aimed for the stars with its all-out and wild nature.

It is that kind of tone and spirit that Bottoms, from director and co-writer Emma Seligman, seeks to recapture in an era where much of that shock value has largely been eradicated from most modern teen flicks. However, she also manages to bring it up to date with the changing times, combining modern-day sensitivities with uncompromising raunch and violence for a mix that makes her film an uproariously good time, no matter what decade it might have been made.

The film focuses on PJ (Rachel Sennott, also the film’s co-writer) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), two lesbian best friends who are social outcasts at high school, where they fantasise about hooking up with popular cheerleaders Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber). After running into a spot of trouble when they accidentally injure the school’s star quarterback, and Isabel’s boyfriend, Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), PJ and Josie avoid punishment by claiming they were organising a female fight club, which along with their other put-upon friend Hazel (Ruby Cruz) – as well as the clout gained from a false claim that they did time in juvie – they go along with as a means to get close to and eventually score with their cheerleader crushes. Despite the less-than-noble intentions, they soon manage to create an empowering and rather violent circle of participants, which quickly earns the wrath of Jeff and his equally psychotic teammates.

Almost the exact opposite of Seligman’s pressure-cooker of a debut Shiva Baby (which Rachel Sennott also starred in), Bottoms leans heavily into its heightened and overt style of comedy from the very start, establishing a world where just about anything goes, no matter how extreme it may be. This is a film where people can get away with the most dangerous and impractical of acts without so much as a stern telling-off by the non-existent authorities, such as beating up people in front of an entire crowd of on-lookers, or even constructing a bomb that destroys a prized car.

Meanwhile, nobody bats an eyelid toward the rampant chaos within this school – not least because, aside from careless teacher Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch) and the volatile Principal Meyers (Wayne Péré), there appear to be no other faculty members in sight – with homophobic graffiti being casually sprayed onto the two protagonists’ lockers, the football players dining at their own Last Supper-esque cafeteria table (underneath a crude recreation of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”), and even a student randomly being in a cage throughout an entire class session. It’s pure craziness, and all the more fun for it.

Seligman and co-writer Sennott also do not hold back on the violence during these fight club sessions, wherein teen girls get punched hard in the face (to where bruises remain scenes later), kicked in the crotch, violently shoved onto the floor, and at one point just absolutely pummelled within an inch of their life. Some of it is incredibly over-the-top – especially during an utterly insane climax where, without getting into spoilers, there is most definitely a body count – but it fits perfectly into this rather wacky universe, where it’s well established that not even acts of terrorism are off the table, and where there’s as much flexibility in logic as there is in the kinds of films that Bottoms is paying homage to.

Furthermore, there is also something incredibly cathartic about watching teen girls beat the crap out of each other, something that the film is smart enough not to fetishise or treat with hostility, instead showing it for the gruesome and unpleasant activity that it is, but also as a slightly twisted method of female empowerment for adolescents with few other options when it comes to defending themselves.

On top of that, the film is often very, very funny. Seligman and Sennott’s script heavily plays with themes of feminism and queer identity, but in the format of an 80s shenanigans teen comedy where the two leads would have almost certainly been male if it were made four decades prior, which makes their ultimate goal of wanting to hook up with the hot cheerleaders not only more hilarious, but more appropriate to that older type of teen movie.

There are plenty of over-the-top performances that score big laughs from their inflated deliveries alone, with leads Sennott and Ayo Edebiri getting some strong mileage out of their natural comedic talents, while on the other end there’s Red, White & Royal Blue’s Nicholas Galitzine giving a hilarious villain turn as this lunkheaded man-child who feels like he’s been drafted straight out of the Alpha Betas from Revenge of the Nerds. Gags aplenty, both in the rapid-fire dialogue and deep within the background of some scenes, are pretty air-tight in their conviction and overall execution, with even some dark ones about a potential school shooter raising some heavy (if slightly unnerved) laughter.

It is an extremely self-aware movie, one that knows full well what kind of film it is setting out to be and delivers ten-fold on its own promise. Even during the more generic plot beats, there is never a sense that Bottoms is taking itself too seriously – hell, the song playing over the sad montage during the second-to-third act break is Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” – or at least enough to where it suddenly feels like a completely different movie. Instead, Seligman keeps the comedy flowing without it becoming too tiresome or cringeworthy, embracing the madness without compromising the dignity of her filmmaking skills or her actors’ general likeability.

It’s a teen comedy that feels like it could genuinely have come from the 70s or 80s and generated as much of a cult following as the likes of The Hollywood Knights or Weird Science for its bold and unsafe storytelling. Luckily, unlike some of those films, Bottoms is more likely to age a lot better, as it’s a fight club movie that you should be talking about.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Bottoms is a fun and often very funny teen comedy that calls back to the anything-goes attitude of such comedies from the 70s or 80s, which director and co-writer Emma Seligman combines with modern-day sensitivities that work surprisingly well in part thanks to some hilarious performances and a script that generates plenty of laughter.

Four of of five stars

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