by Rob DiCristino
“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.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.
Bottoms hits limited theaters today, August 25th, and opens wide on September 1st.