Friday, August 25, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

Not another teen movie.

“No one hates us for being gay,” PJ (Rachel Sennott) assures her best friend Josie (Ayo Edebiri). “Everyone hates us for being gay, untalented, and ugly.” She has a point. The tooling masses of Rockbridge Falls High happily embrace diversity — theater dweebs, mathletes, and cheerleaders endure the school’s cockeyed brutality in equal measure — but PJ and Josie remain outcasts. Maybe it’s because they’re ugly. Maybe it’s because they’re untalented. Maybe it’s because they hit star quarterback Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine) with their car during the school fair. But it wasn’t their fault. Like every teen movie protagonist of the last forty years, they were only trying to get laid. They’re just horny virgins who will do anything to get closer to their crushes, Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu). Who wouldn’t? Before they know it, they’re using a fabricated turn in juvie as a prerequisite to lead a women’s fight club. It’ll make them feminist heroes, PJ says. More importantly, she tells a doubtful Josie, it’ll help them score.
So begins Emma Seligman’s Bottoms, the outrageous follow-up to her brilliantly incisive debut, Shiva Baby. Co-writing again with Sennott, Seligman has at once paid homage to the great absurdist teen comedies of the past — think Heathers meets Wet Hot American Summer — and blown them completely out of the water, presenting a world so off-the-wall that misbehaving students are kept in cages and onlookers barely bat an eye at the whiskey decanter on the principal’s (Wayne Pére) desk. Seligman and Sennott aren’t writing a realistic high school; they’re writing the way it feels to be in high school, a time when popularity is essential and authority figures seem negligent at best — see Marshawn Lynch’s Mr. G, who prompts students to reenact the Treaty of Versailles while he reads a dirty magazine — and felonious at worst — see Hazel (Ruby Cruz as Bottoms’ McLovin), who discovers her mom in bed with classmate Jeff. Bottoms may indulge in gleeful exaggeration, but didn’t everything about high school seem a little off?
Rachel Sennott continues to build velocity as the heiress apparent to indie cinema as we know it, following up 2022’s Bodies Bodies Bodies with another eccentric mix of indignance and vulnerability (she also stars in this year’s SXSW hit, I Used to Be Funny). Her PJ is Bottoms’ engine, a raspy malcontent wise enough to lampshade teen comedy tropes while occasionally — and often unknowingly — playing them just as straight and sincere as her counterparts. Sennott is no less than a force of nature, a fully-formed talent in need of only the tiniest nudge toward her incoming superstardom. Meanwhile, Ayo Edebiri (MVP of FX’s The Bear) is Bottoms' tiny beating heart, and it’s a joy to watch her Josie work quietly in the margins of PJ’s belligerence. Edebiri (also of Big Mouth and Abbott Elementary) has the rare ability to work the camera without playing to it, conducting an inimitable symphony of stutters, eye rolls, and awkward shifts in posture that tell us all we need to know without her ever saying a word.

The pair headlines a roster of delightful performers who all understand exactly how to bring this world to life (especially Cruz, who subtly steals her handful of scenes), but it’s Bottoms’ brazenly caustic screenplay that separates it so drastically from its peers. While recent gems like Booksmart and Spontaneous have given the genre a much-needed boost of 21st century poignancy — school terrorism and gender identity politics never quite fit into John Hughes’ Reaganomic reverie — Bottoms treats these issues as part of the everyday status quo. Sure, our girls are bullied for being “ugly.” Sure, Jeff is a date rapist. Sure, Hazel is a pyromaniac, and Brittany has been assaulted so many times she’s lost count. What of it? This isn’t an after school special. Bottoms isn’t here to teach you anything. It’s a sex comedy about teenagers who just happen to live in the shitty world we’ve left them. All it can really do is make you laugh, employing a Zucker-esque battery of rapid-fire gags — nearly all of which hit the mark — to do so.
It’s always a joy to see a work of true inspiration, a perfect synthesis of medium and voice, of conception and execution. Though it’ll likely be remembered most as a proof of concept, a stepping stone to Seligman and Sennott’s forthcoming mainstream masterpiece, Bottoms deserves credit for reinvigorating a genre under constant threat of extinction at the hands of pearl-clutching twenty-somethings who, for reasons passing understanding, seem to think the sexy and the lusty and the dirty and the scandalous have no place in cinema. It deserves credit for being fearless and unashamed of itself, for treating its young characters with warmth and empathy even when — and especially because — they make selfish, short-sighted mistakes. It deserves credit because it stages one of the most patently outlandish climaxes in recent cinematic memory, a sequence so rapturous that we’re fully halfway into it before we can process the remarkable horrors at play. For all these gifts and more, Bottoms is one of the very best films of the year.

hits limited theaters today, August 25th, and opens wide on September 1st.

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