SXSW Review: “Bottoms”

We love a good double-entendre, and clearly, so does director Emma Seligman. Seligman’s sophomore feature following her fantastic 2020 film Shiva Baby reunites her with star and co-writer Rachel Sennott. Whereas Shiva Baby was simultaneously funny and anxiety-inducing, Bottoms—which centers around two lesbian high-schoolers who start a fight club as a means to get close to their cheerleader crushes—amps up the hilarity, insanity, and queerness, with a bloody twist.

Sennott and Ayo Edebiri are PJ and Josie, best friends whose queerness alienates them from their peers in their non-description all-American town. They try to add to their mystique by lying about spending the summer in juvie, but they’re so awkward and so lack confidence that they fall on their faces every time they try to talk to their popular crushes, Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber), they fall on their faces. When the girls end up intervening in an argument Isabel is having with her jock ex-boyfriend (Nicholas Galitzine) and are later accused of assaulting him, they lie their way out of it by telling their school principal they are trying to start a fight club for girls, to teach self-defense and create solidarity among the women. Of course, then they have to actually start the club, which they do not because they are feminists, but because they are hoping the cheerleaders will come.

The heightened reality of the Bottoms world is both a blessing and a curse for the movie. Clearly drawing on teen comedies from the late 80s through the early 2000s—think Bring It On, But I’m a Cheerleader, maybe a dash of Heathers—Seligman and Sennott create a zany vibe all their own with their punchy (pun intended) script, unapologetically reaching for and landing joke after joke. We know Sennott right now—she can be so dry, and that aids her well as the brasher PJ—but Edebiri runs away with the movie as the more hesitant but endlessly sarcastic Josie. The supporting cast contribute a lot to the film’s texture as well, like Marshawn Lynch as the students’ (extremely) laid back teacher and club sponsor, and Miles Fowler as the football player who sees through PJ and Josie’s scheme.

Rachel Sennott stars as PJ and Ayo Edebiri as Josie in BOTTOMS | Credit: Courtesy of ORION Pictures Inc. © 2023 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Like Shiva Baby, Seligman crafts her film around uncomfortable feelings, but there aren’t any repercussions for the violent acts that occur in this film. The men are all abusive morons. There is very little gray area in its characterizations. Bottoms lucidly conveys how hard it can be to be a queer teen, existing on what is perceived the fringes of what’s “normal,” but any other statements it leans toward making, about misogyny, or the importance for women to support each other, don’t come together as cohesively. Perhaps another pass on the script could have corrected this. As it stands, most of the characters are so mean and manipulative toward each other, it’s incredible any of them are still friends by the end of the movie. But Bottoms also keeps a lot of tricks up its sleeve, and it’s fun to see a comedy with a premise that’s so brazen. It may be flawed, but it’s tight, hilarious, and surprising. Seligman, still so early in her career, already possesses such a strong, clear vision, it’s impossible not to applaud her for it, and look forward to what she does next.

Bottoms had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival on March 11, and is slated to be released by MGM. Runtime: 92 minutes.

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