“Bottoms isn't just a successful sophomore outing for director Emma Seligman. It's also the best R-rated comedy of the year so far.”
- Emma Seligman's energetic, punchy direction
- Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri's charming lead performances
- Ruby Cruz and Marshawn Lynch's scene-stealing supporting turns
- Nicholas Galitzine's grating, one-note villain
- Several lackluster second-act narrative beats
There’s a lot one can say about Bottoms, the new film from Shiva Baby director Emma Seligman, but the best thing about it is that it is completely and utterly alive. From the moment it begins, the film buzzes with a fervent creative intensity that infuses it with a zippy, light-on-its-feet energy that makes its ludicrous story deceptively easy to swallow and its many thrown punches land that much harder. The comedy is a raucous, wisely lean high school romp, one that dares to combine the satirical edge of Heathers and hard-knuckled brutality of Fight Club with the horniness and friendship-bracelet sweetness of Superbad.
The fact that it accomplishes that as well as it does is a testament to not only the quality of the film’s script, which Seligman co-wrote with star Rachel Sennott, but also the clear-eyed vision of its director. Throughout Bottoms, one can sense Seligman’s clear desire to not waste her first real opportunity within the Hollywood studio system seeping in from behind the camera. The good news is that not only has she not let her chance pass her by, but she’s delivered the best R-rated studio comedy of the year.
Bottoms takes place in a world that feels both foreign and familiar. Littered with tongue-in-cheek riffs on coming-of-age movie clichés (note all the spray-painted locker messages), its reality comes across as a skewed version of our own. Like all great big-screen farces, the film makes certain unspoken truths cartoonishly literal — namely, the overwhelming misogyny of American high school culture, which is manifested in, among other things, posters urging female students to smile more. In doing so, Bottoms gives itself the space necessary to lampoon the toxic societal flaws spotlighted throughout it.
By heightening its own, altered reality, Bottoms makes it easier to accept the film’s objectively ridiculous premise, which centers around two high school seniors and lifelong friends, PJ (Sennott) and Josie (The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri), who decide to start an all-female fight club in order to seduce their respective crushes, Isabel (a quietly luminous Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber). Their plan gets off to a surprisingly good start, thanks in no small part to the help of their unshakeable friend, Hazel (Ruby Cruz), and their recently divorced, oblivious club supervisor, Mr. G (a scene-stealing Marshawn Lynch).
When PJ and Josie’s lies about wanting to empower their fellow female students begin to pile up on them, however, the two find themselves on the verge of ending up with even less than they had at the start of the film. To make matters worse, their lives, as well as the safety of their fellow students, are thrown into absurd jeopardy by an impending game between their school’s football team, which is headed by Isabel’s adulterous boyfriend, Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), and a rival town’s. Altogether, these various threads set the stage for Bottoms to go to even more farcical and gloriously violent places in its third act than any first-time viewers will likely expect.
For some, Bottoms’ aggressive, in-your-face sense of humor may seem more grating than laugh-inducing. As frequently funny as it is, not all of the film’s visual gags and characterizations land with as much force as others (Galitzine’s one-note performance quickly wears thin). While Seligman and her cast manage to successfully tap into the same angsty teen horniness as many of Bottoms‘ influences, the sweetness of its leads’ friendship isn’t as effectively communicated or explored. Its story’s inevitable, emotionally low beats, consequently, all land with a collective thud.
Behind the camera, Seligman partly makes up for the falseness of some of Bottoms’ more dramatic beats by dropping a Gen Z-targeted needle drop that is more effective than it has any right to be. On-screen, though, it’s ultimately Sennott and Edebiri who make PJ and Josie even remotely tolerable. Sennott’s brash, mile-a-minute energy proves to be a perfect counter to her co-star’s awkward, purposefully stilted comedic timing. Together, the two actresses manage to match the energy and charisma of Seligman’s direction. Opposite them, Lynch and Cruz both emerge as standouts, with the former earning some of the film’s biggest laughs and the latter proving to be the closest thing it has to a real heart and soul.
Above all else, Bottoms’ cast members seem game to try and do just about anything. They throw themselves into the film’s violent fights and goofy gags with equal amounts of reckless abandon — making Bottoms’ narrative juxtaposition of its characters’ sexual desires and shared bloodlust genuinely, viscerally affecting. Had the movie been made at any other time, it might not have been as successful. It simply benefits too much from the youthful energy of its creators, all of whom seem intent on cementing themselves as artists whose voices deserve to not only be heard, but amplified.
In that way, Bottoms is a high school movie through and through. The film overflows with relatable, if juvenile, shades of confidence and ambition. It, like its characters and every teenager ever, wants to prove itself, and while its subjects may be a pair of high school losers, Bottoms is no sophomore slump. Instead, it’s the second half of a sentence that began when Shiva Baby was released two years ago — one that transforms the unspoken promise of potential offered by that film into a statement of fact. Put that another way: Emma Seligman hasn’t just arrived. She’s here to stay.
Bottoms is now playing in select theaters. It expands nationwide on Friday, September 1.
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