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‘Bottoms’ Up: Seligman and Sennott Re-Team for Wild Comedy

Cinema | September 17th, 2023

By Greg Carlson

gregcarlson1@gmail.com

Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri play best pals PJ and Josie, woebegone nerds hot for cheerleaders Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) in a high school caste system that looks and feels quite familiar to fans of the durable teen sex comedy.

In “Bottoms,” directed by Emma Seligman – who co-wrote the screenplay with her “Shiva Baby” star Sennott – the satire, the visual gags, the gross-outs, and the gusto combine to form one of this year’s most entertaining and refreshing confections. It may not be “Heathers,” or even “Booksmart,” but “Bottoms” boasts more than enough weirdness and originality to earn cult re-watch status.

Seligman successfully establishes the tonal sweet spot for “Bottoms” to blossom and thrive via healthy suspension of disbelief. Like a number of its influences, the film constructs a complete Bizarro-level universe tweaked with three drops of strong metanarrative potion (it never hurts to allude to the fantasy of high school students brought to life by performers in their late 20s and up).

We’re back in that place where preening football heroes dress in their uniforms 24/7, a teacher openly peruses a porn glossy titled “Divorced and Happy” during class, and an outlandish scheme to engage in heavy petting launches a self-defense and empowerment group that morphs quickly into a fight club.

Most of the hype ahead of the movie’s wide release focused on the outrageous premise. The description accompanying a Google search still reads, “Unpopular best friends PJ and Josie start a high school fight club to meet girls and lose their virginity,” which isn’t entirely accurate, since our protagonists already shoulder significant and specific unrequited crushes on Brittany and Isabel, whom they already know.

But the point is that Seligman and Sennott merely use the eye-catching fight club angle as a means to harden a much more ambitious odyssey through the timeworn tropes and expectations of mainstream teensploitation.

By cultivating a world where audacious and ample profanity peppers the steady flow of observations which are always stretching fully into the territory of adulthood, “Bottoms” prepares us for its glimpses of more pointed social commentary. Conversely, Seligman deliberately chooses not to warn viewers about some of its most brazen demonstrations of movie make-believe. The climactic gridiron fracas, which pulls together a bomb plot, a contaminated sprinkler system, and a gladiatorial nerds-versus-jocks showdown close in spirit to the anarchic news team battle royal in “Anchorman,” brings it in a very particular way.

Seligman and Sennott will likely receive plenty of heat from both conservative and politically-correct voices sure to scold the movie’s utterly brutal commitment to humor in the service of its bigger message. “Bottoms,” unafraid to include jokes about rape and sexual assault, eating disorders, terroristic threats, suicide and self-harm, bullying, and a whole lot more, walks a tightrope during a period of acute scrutiny and culture policing. Its willingness to offend without apology turns out to be its knockout punch. I look forward to reading the anniversary-marking think pieces and hot takes when the movie celebrates its tenth and twentieth birthdays.

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