Emma Seligman’s ‘Bottoms’ Packs A Strong Comedic Punch – Review
Emma Seligman takes a leap from her anxiety-inducing debut, Shiva Baby to a teen comedy that aims to leave a mark in the ever-changing genre. She reunites with Shiva Baby’s star Rachel Sennott to co-write and helm the absurdist teen-comedy Bottoms perfectly timed for back-to-school. Seligman’s sophomore film seamlessly fits into a quadruple feature with 80s/90s cult classics like Jawbreaker, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and Heathers, but Bottoms gives us a taste of decades’ past for a Gen Z audience in search of catharsis (when we need it most).
Who needs picture-perfect dream girls when you can lean into the celebrated queer aesthetic (sometimes) dubbed Adam Sandler-core? Right at the film’s start, it’s remarked that the students in this high school dislike PJ (Rachel Sonnett) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri)— they don’t dislike them because they’re gay; it’s because they’re “gay, untalented AND ugly.” Seligman opts for our lesbian protagonists to don frumpy overalls and baggy shirts – even through the excess of fabric and unflattering hems, Bottoms shows us that movies can be horny again. When an incident with a rival school sparks safety concerns for female students, PJ and Josie double down with the insistence that they must create this “self-defense” club, signed off by one of the film’s standouts, Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch). The duo capitalize on a misunderstanding and create a full-fledged female fight club in an attempt to experience sapphic sexual exploration, itching to claw their way out of the bottom of their school’s social hierarchy and get some action. It’s just typical high-school stuff!
A film like this relies on a director with a clear voice, an airtight screenplay, and an ensemble that can bring it to life successfully. Luckily, this film had all three. Sennott and Edebiri’s comedic chemistry took the film’s concept to the next level. Both have been incredibly successful in the last few years, but Edebiri had me in awe during this film! She has undoubtedly made a name for herself in her young career, tackling diverse roles in The Bear, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem, Theater Camp, and now, Bottoms. Joining them on the hilarious ride are Ruby Cruz’s Hazel, Havana Rose Liu’s Isabel, Kaia Gerber’s Brittany, and Nicholas Galitzine’s himbo quarterback Jeff.
Every character shines vibrantly throughout the film. The actors and Seligman’s direction hinges on hitting the comedic timing and line delivery just right. It’s refreshing to see unapologetic queer characters in films embracing their identity in a high school where everyone stays true to their shallow sense of self. The array of suburban high-schoolers fit their moulds and are not multifaceted on the surface. At one point, Brittany (Gerber) casually states that she has no personality and goes along with whatever Isabel (Liu) does. While these characters continue to be a play on stereotypes, there are moments of levity that allow us to see more of who they truly are – like the popular cheerleader talking about her stalker or Brittany mentioning that she does have other hobbies and goals.
The satirical tone holds strong throughout the entire film. It knows what it is and never tries to shy away from it. The soundtrack and vibrant color palette convey these themes and tonal balance. The music, by Charli XCX and Leo Birenberg, encapsulates the brain of a teenage girl and utilizes pop songs like Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper and Complicated by Avril Lavigne for crucial beats. Rather than the perfectly fit “greige” funeral aesthetic of Shiva Baby, this film is bursting with energy in its use of set design. We see bedrooms that look straight out of an Urban Outfitters ad, cookie-cutter suburban houses, and a school clad with eye-catching PSA posters. These posters, chalkboards, and other details shift throughout the film to mirror the impact our protagonists make in their community for the first time.
As PJ and Josie use the normalized violence against women for their gain, they do positively impact their community throughout the way. They gathered a group that could not be more staggeringly different from each other, but when face-to-face, the fight club realizes that they share the universal experiences of being a woman in this world. During certain “gray-area” jokes, I could feel the tension in the room where women were laughing through our real-world pain as some men laughed and squirmed at the mention of the uncomfortable truths. Seligman and Sennott seamlessly navigated turning this pain into humor while never diminishing the weight. It’s cathartic while also being raunchy, gruesome, and full of longing.
Bottoms is a film that is not for everyone, but that is its strength! It utilizes an absurd premise to navigate complex topics while uplifting women and queer voices to harness female rage in the form of bloody noses and bruised lips. Seligman and the crew pack a punch in the gut for audiences, and you’ll go down laughing.