Following my initial viewing of filmmaker Emma Seligman’s feature-length debut, Shiva Baby, I had a feeling that she would be a name to keep your eyes out for. Having now seen her sophomore effort Bottoms, I am very intrigued to see what direction she goes in with her next film. This is a drastic change of pace for in comparison to her first film. Whereas Shiva Baby had a blend of dark humour and anxiety-inducing claustrophobia, Bottoms is more of a high-school comedy, but one that is very satirical, foul-mouthed and has some brutal moments of slapstick violence.
The focus is on two unpopular queer girls named Josie (Ayo Edebiri) and PJ (Rachel Sennott) who are desperate to win the attention of the popular cheerleaders in their school. How do they achieve that? They establish a fight club in their school under the guise of it being a feminist self-defence course. To present themselves as being more authoritative, PJ and Josie then craft a lie about spending time in a dangerous juvenile detention centre. It then becomes clearly apparent after the two of them take their first punch to the face that they haven’t a clue what they’re doing. However, in the midst of all the chaos, the girls end up forming a bond with the various members of the club and it transforms the film into a very offbeat and unhinged tale of sisterhood. But the activities of the group are slowly being perceived as suspicious and especially in the eyes of the dim-witted ‘jocks’ led by the school’s star quarterback Jeff (Nicholas Gallitzine).
This is not a subtle film. Not in the slightest. I would even go so far as to say the film is about as subtle as the numerous hits and blows that the characters take to the face. But Seligman’s film is very self-aware of the tropes and caricatures that have appeared in other acclaimed high-school comedies. Some of the influences that I took note of were Superbad, Booksmart as well as another film that I’m not allowed to to talk about (Fans of David Fincher may know what I am referring to.)
Bottoms embraces the tropes of other high-school comedies and wears them proudly on its bloody sleeve. The film’s sense of humour can be best described as being off-kilter and completely unfiltered. I do wish that it struck more of a balance with the tone though as the film’s overly satirical tone does hinder its attempts at being dramatic. The humour doesn’t always land as well but, much like the members of the fight club attempting to throw a punch, it does take some big swings.
Bottoms reunites Seligman with her lead star/co-writer of Shiva Baby Rachel Sennott (who also serves as a co-screenwriter in this film). Having shined in that film as well as last year’s horror comedy Bodies Bodies Bodies (And we will of course forgive her for starring in the critical disaster that was The Idol.), she is absolutely brilliant in this film. But someone who really leaves an impact in this film is Ayo Edebiri (who was equally fantastic in the acclaimed kitchen-drama series The Bear). Both she and Sennott have electrifying chemistry with one another, with Edebiri’s naive Josie serving as a solid comedic counterpart to Sennott’s PJ who is more outspoken and loud-mouthed. I would also give a particular shout-out to NFL player turned actor Marshawn Lynch who knocks it out of the park with his comedic timing as the school’s history teacher Mr. G, whom the girls recruit to advise over their fight club.
Overall, Bottoms is one of the better comedies to be released this year. Seligman’s second film is a foul-mouthed over-the-top high-school fight club comedy with two star-making lead performances. It doesn’t overstay its welcome at 91 minutes, but I can see the film’s “in-your-face” humour to be a tad overbearing for some. On the other hand, I found the film to be consistently entertaining overall and it’s a comedy that really packs a punch.