'Bottoms' review: Queer teenage comedy throws some wild punches
Courtesy of MGM
A satirization of the generic teenage comedy, “Bottoms” re-teams “Shiva Baby” collaborators Rachel Sennott and writer-director Emma Seligman for an often wild and uneven ride where two high school girls start an underground fight club in the hopes of luring cheerleaders. As much an ode to David Fincher’s “Fight Club” as it is cut from the same cloth of “Not Another Teen Movie,” “Bottoms” is an ambitious step-up for Seligman considering her last film was an 80-minute single location comedy. It’s a movie not so much grounded in reality, but in the risks it takes along the way, which includes hiring ex-NFL superstar Marshawn Lynch to play a history teacher who inadvertently gets roped into sponsoring the club. Lynch, to his credit, is a major bright spot, delivering deadpan comedic delivery and it’s one of several off-the-wall choices the filmmakers take that catapults “Bottoms” into a league by itself. Even if you leave thinking: what the hell just happened?
Reuniting for the first time since their Comedy Central web series, Sennott and Ayo Edebiri (who, between “The Bear,” “Theater Camp,” “TMNT” and a guest stint on “Black Mirror” is having a banner year) play PJ and Josie, high school seniors with an eye for the hot cheerleaders Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber) despite the latter dating football quarterback, Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), who, like all the other varsity players, never takes off his uniform.
It doesn’t stop PJ and Josie from creating a “self defense” after school club and getting their crushes to show up. The club’s formation also entices a squad of eccentric outsiders, like pyromaniac Hazel (Ruby Cruz); daddy issue prone Sylvie (Summer Joy Campbell); and Annie (Zamani Wilder) who is usually on the receiving end of crude body shaming comments from her peers. Collectively, they band together to face their adversity and sling a few punches in the hopes of adopting some courage that can be used to combat the school’s obnoxious patriarchal systems.
Co-written by Sennott and Seligman, “Bottoms” exists in its own universe, one where the football players basically get away with murder, teachers casually endorse drug usage, and are okay with kids beating the shit out of each other. It makes for a jarring viewing experience as “Bottoms” never tethers itself into any singular genre or direction. On one hand, it’s admirable, but on the other, you can sense the wasted potential had the movie established more boundaries. (How “Bottoms” deals with sexual femininity is anything but obvious, and the dark humor doesn’t always land the way some may expect).
Still, there’s a final bloody brawl for the ages and pointed needle drops that captures the spirit of the high school comedy. It’s far from perfect, but its bold take on empowerment is something that should be cherished.
BOTTOMS is now playing in theaters.