After her impressive feature debut, “Shiva Baby,” director Emma Seligman reconnects with Rachel Sennott for an unhinged comedy like few others. “Bottoms” follows a pair of lesbian best friends, PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), as they accidentally stumble into a plan that can make them both popular at their high school and win over their crushes, the statuesque Brittany (Kaia Gerber) for PJ and the petite Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) for Josie. Isabel is in a tumultuous relationship with the school’s hunky and horny quarterback, Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), whose close, overprotective second-in-command, Tim (Miles Fowler), makes for an unexpected adversary. By chance, PJ and Josie team up with another outcast classmate, Hazel (Ruby Cruz), and Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch), a teacher going through his own personal crisis, to start a fight club/self-defense class with less-than-zero qualifications to protect themselves against a rival school and learn to stand up for themselves.
Co-written by Seligman and Sennott, “Bottoms” is fun and silly in all its chaos. The two have created a ridiculous world where the overdramatic high school drama is not always supposed to make sense, but that’s part of the appeal. Cinematographer Maria Rusche makes their school look dreary in blue, an oppressive space that could bring down anybody who isn’t at the top of the student hierarchy. Their teacher makes only basic statements, no explanation, and then allows his students to return to whatever the kids want to do while he reads magazines inappropriate for minors and stews about his divorce.
In one early classroom scene, a student is shown in a cage but not mentioned. Later, we learn he’s the school’s top wrestler, presumably only allowed out for matches. The football players wear their uniforms all the time for some inexplicable reason. PJ cites feminism as a reason to start their fight club/self-dense group, but Josie points out that she actually hates feminism. The best friends go along with a rumor that they spent the summer in juvenile detention, with Josie embellishing excruciating stories of survival to their classmates’ horror.
The movie features needle drops aplenty, including a very comedic use of the karaoke staple, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and extra modern beats provided by Leo Birenberg and Charli XCX. It’s one silly bit after another, like candies rolling off a conveyor belt.
There is one poignant moment where “Bottoms” drops its unserious tone for a sobering moment between PJ, Josie, Hazel, and their club members. Gathered together on the basketball court on Hazel’s suggestion that they should get to know their members better, the group starts to share traumatizing stories of assault, stalkers, and frustration over police inaction. The moment does not last long as Josie then details her “time” in juvie. Still, it’s an effective nod to the real violence girls their characters’ age endure before returning to their haphazard fisticuffs training.
“Bottoms” pokes fun at the high school movie, the kind where the actors all look like they’re in their thirties (because chances are, they are), and there’s supposed to be some coming-of-age lesson to be learned by the soon-to-be grown-ups. PJ and Josie do learn a valuable lesson but at the expense of bruised faces, bloody noses, and more than their fair share of cuts and scrapes. “Bottoms” dropkicks John Hughes movies on their ass and lets the girls take charge—not just as pouty wallflowers or broody misfits until someone gives them a makeover. They are the weirdos; they are the nerds. They have every right to fail, be crass, make crude jokes, and shed blood. Seligman and Sennott are all in on the joke, right down to the end credits blooper reel.
In theaters tomorrow, August 25th.