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Bottoms

'Shiva Baby' director Emma Seligman and actor Rachel Sennott reteam for a wild high-school comedy about a lesbian fight club — with 'The Bear' favourite Ayo Edebiri also starring.
By Sarah Ward
November 30, 2023
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By Sarah Ward
November 30, 2023
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The first rule of making a movie about a high-school lesbian fight club is that there are no rules, other than embracing the concept and giving it your all. So punches Bottoms, a film where the gleefully cartoonish energy is always as important as the plot, and a feature that knows it's entering a big-screen ring that wouldn't even exist if Heathers, Clueless, Bring It On, Mean GirlsBut I'm a Cheerleader, Easy A and Booksmart hadn't hopped over the ropes first. Three years after Shiva Baby, writer/director Emma Seligman and actor Rachel Sennott (Bodies Bodies Bodies) reunite, with the pair collaborating on the script this time around. Also crucial: bringing in The Bear's Ayo Edebiri, a friend from the duo's student days, to co-star. In a picture that values being stronger together, Seligman, Sennott and Edebiri make a knockout team. Bottoms' vibe could only spring from IRL pals, too, playing it loose and ridiculous like this crew is simply hanging out.

The setup: Sennott and Edebiri are PJ and Josie, who return to Rockbridge Falls High School after summer break keen to finally turn their love for popular cheerleaders Isabel (Havana Rose Liu, No Exit) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber, Babylon) into sex and romance. The best friends know that their social standing is anything but high — "gay, untalented and ugly" is how they describe themselves — but two queer girls can dream that this is their moment, then do their utmost to make their fantasies a reality. So, when the semester starts with PJ and Josie still stuck as outcasts, they conjure up a plan. Their gymnasium-based group is officially known as a women's self-defense class and is sold to their teachers as an act of female solidarity; however, no matter what they tell the principal (Wayne Pére, Your Honor), as well as the history teacher (Marshawn Lynch, Westworld) that they convince to be their advisor, there's really only one aim: not feminism and support, but getting laid.

The initial mission of PJ and Josie's new extra-curricular obsession is scoring Isabel and Brittany's attention, then. The second: keeping up its founders' new tough rep. In that desperate-to-impress way that every awkward, anxious teen has, Bottoms' protagonists aren't above saying whatever they think will make them look cooler to the objects of their affection. So, PJ and Josie have a rumour that they went to juvie to uphold as long as they think that Isabel and Brittany care. Thanks to an accidental carpark altercation with star quarterback Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine, Red, White & Royal Blue), they also have form throwing around their might — or so they're happy to let their classmates think. Two things neither counts on, though: their gambit proving a hit with other campus outsiders such as Hazel (Ruby Cruz, Mare of Easttown) and, blow by blow, the group actually bringing its members together.

Bottoms' premise is pure inspiration, switching out the usual Can't Hardly Wait-, American Pie- and Superbad-esque pining boys lovesick over long-term crushes or just yearning losing their virginity in general, taking Fight Club to high school, and getting sillier and more surreal than teen comedies normally dare. Bottoms as a movie also demonstrates Seligman's knack for her chosen genre at opposite ends of the spectrum — because the filmmaker's sharp and layered cringe-inducing debut feature is in a whole other comic clique to her sophomore effort. Cue subversion with plenty to say and off-kilter absurdity combined, especially in interrogating allyship. Cue a willingness to go for broke with weird, warped and wild swings as well. And, cue a film that's always doing what PJ and Josie themselves are to score their dream dates: relentlessly trying. The characters go with throwdowns in an endeavour to aid their horny hopes, while the flick itself opts for an everything-it-can-throw-in audacity.

Tonal ducks, bobs and weaves are part of the Bottoms experience, unsurprisingly — and not every gag, line, goof, throwaway, swerve and drop of Wet Hot American Summer-style energy works. Accordingly, rivalries within Rockbridge Falls High and with another school, plus attempts to get serious, aren't always a bullseye. But Seligman and Sennott's devotion to their first rule means that a flat joke, piece of dialogue, idea or moment doesn't last long, then something else enters the comedic fray with gusto. The ping-ponging from Avril Lavigne's 'Complicated' to Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' amid a score co-composed by Charli XCX illustrates much about that bouncing-around relish. So does the script's contentedness to keep most of its on-screen figures as stock types not out of laziness, but to heighten the idiosyncrasies splashed around, insecurities examined and impact of the chaos around them.

There's nothing standard about Sennott and Edebiri, not that Bottoms tells viewers anything that they don't already know from each actor's past work. The respective The Idol and Theater Camp talents previously collaborated on 2020's three-episode Comedy Central miniseries Ayo and Rachel Are Single, also pondering affairs of the heart — modern dating, to be specific, and also hilariously. The lived-in air that they bring to PJ and Josie's friendship isn't just an act, then. In fact, it's what every bit, jab, OTT jump and heartfelt emotion relies on. Sennott does charmingly forceful and unconstrained like she's breathing for it, while Edebiri has already shown how stellar she is at reacting on The Bear. Together, whether taking turns monologuing or diving into a bloodbath, they're unhinged magic.

Also excellent: the supporting cast, from Gerber and Galitzine to Cruz and Lynch. The first makes good on casting a supermodel — and daughter of a supermodel, thanks to mum Cindy Crawford, who she couldn't more resemble — as the epitome of hotness, and makes her part shrewdly amusing. The second does the vain and overly dramatic himbo role to perfection. Cruz screams to be cast alongside Aubrey Plaza (Scott Pilgrim Takes Off) in a future project, and Lynch is progressing well on the Carl Weathers (The Mandalorian)- and Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)-led path of NFL players who've become actors. If one of the key tenets of any association, fists flying or not, is to have the best members, then Bottoms rises to the top while having a helluva raucously entertaining time.

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