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Directed by Emma Seligman
Produced by Elizabeth Banks, Max Handelman, and Alison Small
Written by Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott
With: Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Ruby Cruz, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Miles Fowler, Marshawn Lynch, Dagmara Dominczyk, Punkie Johnson, Zamani Wilder, Summer Joy Campbell, Virginia Tucker, Wayne Pére, Toby Nichols, and Cameron Stout
Cinematography: Maria Rusche
Editing: Hanna Park
Music: Leo Birenberg and Charli XCX
Runtime: 91 min
Release Date: 11 March 2023
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color: Color

Writer/director Emma Seligman and star Rachel Sennott (who also co-writes here) follow up their audacious debut, the well-focused comedy-of-discomfort Shiva Baby, with an even more unabashedly defiant sophomore effort. Bottoms is an over-the-top satire about super-confident misfits navigating the ever-fluctuating labyrinth of high school politics. Sennott stars as PJ, a scrappy lesbian virgin who starts an all-female fight club with her best friend Josie (Ayo Edebiri) after the two return to school amid the rumor that they spent the summer in juvenile detention. By billing the club as a place for female self-empowerment, they convince many popular girls to join and trick one of their clueless teachers (Marshawn Lynch) into being their official advisor. In reality, this loosely structured extra-curricular organization is a scam designed to enable its founders to seduce the straight cheerleaders they have crushes on.

The concept is fun, and the cast is uniformly strong. But this attitude-first, premise-forward, style over substance (or style instead of substance) picture undercuts any edge it might have by ensuring no viewer would be dumb enough to invest in any of these characters. The type of detached hipster satire on display here is far more relentless and on-the-nose than the nuanced heightened reality Seligman achieved in Shiva Baby, which made the disgruntled and directionless young woman played by Sennott immediately and hilariously relatable regardless of one's familiarity with that film's cultural setting. 

Bottoms is one of those movies for which the overused phrase "your mileage may vary" was created. In my view, broad satirical comedies that all but scream to the audience that they are both too ridiculous and too cool to take seriously almost always lose momentum about halfway through, regardless of how strong they start out. Worse, the issues they take on get lost in a sea of disingenuous self-deprecation and a prioritize-the-funny-above-all-else attitude. Thus, we reach the movie's end feeling more removed from the characters' humanity than we did at the start. The film feels cynically calculated to appeal to the "that's so random" generations, almost as if young folks would look down on the very idea of constructing a relatable narrative. Characters (like Punkie Johnson’s qazi-mentor figure), threats (like the rival football team that wants to literally destroy the high school), and narrative beats (like a subplot about an affair) are dropped into the story with little to no set-up or exposition, and often forgotten just as easily. Everything is played as if the whole concept of a high school movie is so antiquated that there's no need to establish anything because everyone already knows all the beats and tropes. But this doesn't make the film feel revolutionary; it just makes it feel sloppy and disjointed. 

There's an almost nihilistic aspect to Bottoms' aesthetic, as if its Millennial filmmakers are saying to the Gen-Z characters (and audience) that their lives are fucked, so they might as well just laugh and enjoy it. While this feels a little disingenuous, it's far more enjoyable than the false empowerment-pandering that permeates too many contemporary movies aimed at young adults. Bottoms also lacks the frustrating anything-for-a-laugh desperation that undercuts so many pictures made in a similarly unremitting style. There is a method to this sensibility, just not one I can vibe with. But Sennott and her fellow cast members made such a strong impression that I stuck with them, even after losing interest in whether or not they would achieve their goals. 

Twitter Capsule:

Emma Seligman's sophomore forgoes the nuanced heightened reality she achieved in Shiva Baby in favor of a funny but unremittingly over-the-top satire in this high-school comedy about misfits who start an all-female fight club.