Emma Seligman’s sophomore feature is a raucous high-school comedy. Here’s our full review of Bottoms.
It’s really hard to make a comedy, like really hard. Humour is so subjective and toeing the line between good and bad taste is no easy feat. Bottoms, Emma Seligman’s follow-up to her breakout hit Shiva Baby, toes this line pretty easily, but like we said, making a good, a great comedy, is really bloody hard.
Josie (Ayo Edebiri) and PJ (Rachel Sennott) are unpopular high schoolers. Like all teenagers, they’re horny and willing to go to extreme lengths to get laid, so they conjure up an elaborate lie about going to juvie and then start a fight club for girls. They market it as a way for women to learn self-defence, but really, Josie and PJ have their eyes on a couple of cheerleaders (Havana Rose Liu and Kaia Gerber).
If that premise makes you feel a bit icky, we get it. It’s an uncomfortable one and seems to only enforce this idea that queer people are predators and out to get you, to sneakily convert you. Thankfully, Seligman’s film is otherwise pretty tame and traditional, which in this case might work in its favour.
However, tame and traditional are not otherwise particularly praising words, are they? Bottoms has been marketed as a raucous, wild teen comedy, the kind that they don’t make anymore, but the result is a surprisingly conventional comedy. Seligman’s movie is nowhere near as outrageous as it clearly aspires to be. There’s very few scenes that actually show the fight club that Josie and PJ put together, which proves disappointing but Bottoms is a strange film, by design.
The beginning of the film can be rough, Josie is much more sympathetic character than the outright arsey PJ (she even admits to it later on) and the film comes very close to immediately alienating you. The script, written by Seligman and Sennott, is written broadly and characters feel strangely unspecific. When the film arrives at its completely bonkers finale, it feels like a completely different movie. On one hand, you have to admire the sheer balls of it all, but it’s a huge leap of faith.
Bottoms does, however, manage to make you laugh or at least chuckle. It took me a while to tune into the film’s wavelength, but generally, once I did, I had a great time. While Sennott has been stealing scenes left, right and centre in projects like Bodies Bodies Bodies and HBO’s misguided The Idol, she’s hopelessly overshadowed by Edibiri.
Edibiri has so far been enjoying a stellar year, with The Bear, Theater Camp and Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse putting her on the map. While it takes a lot of suspension of disbelief to believe that both her and Sennott, aged 28, are in high school, Edebiri shines in a role that often pushes her away from a traditionally likeable character. There’s a tangible vulnerability to Edibiri’s performance that elevates, or perhaps grounds, Bottoms. It’s her that makes the biggest impression, not the film’s jokes.
Seligman never tries to be sexy with Bottoms. She understands that teenage girls are like wild animals, rabid and desperate, she treats them with respect. Bottoms might not be the best feminist comedy ever made, but it’s truly a joy to see young women be this horny and weird on the big screen. The queerness portrayed here feels natural and it’s never the joke here although a scene where a character declares themselves as straight feels painfully relatable.
There is much to enjoy with Bottoms. There’s a distinct sense that it could have pushed harder, gone further with its jokes, but thanks to a charming cast, Seligman’s sophomore film is a winner.
Bottoms is now in cinemas.
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