There are many ways to try and fail to be popular, and starting a female-only fight club is typically not high on the list. But it’s the perfect subject for director Emma Seligman‘s much-anticipated follow-up to Shiva Baby, which sees her reunite with that film’s star, Rachel Sennott. The two of them co-wrote the Bottoms script together, and their latest comedy features bold, unfiltered characters set in a world that only feels like a slightly exaggerated parody of our own.
PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are unpopular seniors with hopeless crushes on cheerleaders Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), respectively. Aware that the cheerleaders will never notice them, they opt to capitalize on an untrue rumor that they spent the summer in juvie, and start a self-defense club for women. To their surprise, it attracts a decent crowd in search of a community to call their own and enables them to get close to the two girls for whom they’ve been pining so long. The club’s success becomes a problem when it threatens the football team’s stranglehold on the student body’s attention, and when PJ and Josie’s personal goals get in the way of what their club has actually started to achieve.
Those expecting Bottoms to be similar in tone to Shiva Baby will find this shift quite jarring, but the film conveys the same creative energy and delivers even more laughs in a very direct manner. Josie and especially PJ are both blunt and hold nothing back, freely discussing their sex lives and their innermost thoughts about every situation. In this film’s world, the school’s principal calls them “ugly” and “gay” as he summons them to his office for a lecture in which he curses them out in defense of the all-important football team. Men’s complicated relationships with feminism and allyship are also on display and former NFL star Marshawn Lynch delivers a hilarious performance as a teacher going through a divorce who agrees to be the club’s faculty advisor.
This film doesn’t censor much about its fight scenes, playing them all for laughs and showing how simple ideas of harmless training can actually lead to serious hurt. Fortunately, it’s all done in a way that is designed to entertain, and the choreography emphasizes the gut-busting humor that can come from someone having wildly wrong expectations regarding their own physical capabilities. There’s also a natural progression of ability that builds towards an absolutely over-the-top but extremely satisfying finale that brings the film to a ridiculous close.
Bottoms boasts a fantastic score from Charli XCX and Leo Birenberg that helps to establish its outrageous tone, and the soundtrack selections from music supervisor Mandy Mamlet help ground the film in the late 1990s/early 2000s — a moment that is also indicated by one football player’s use of a Razr flip phone and the appearance of a phone book. Remember those? The absence of smartphones and other modern-day conveniences allows this film to focus more on its characters and their interpersonal conversations, which are laced with hilarity thanks to a superb script from Seligman and Sennott.
The entire cast is fantastic, and Sennott (who also stars in another SXSW film, I Used to Be Funny) and Edebiri (who has been winning raves for FX’s The Bear) make for a formidable duo, and there’s a terrific rhythm to their interactions that helps them play off one another. Elsewhere, Ruby Cruz is spunky and memorable as Hazel, who starts the fight club with PJ and Josie, while Summer Joy Campbell infuses a great deal of nervous energy into one of the club’s more intense members, Sylvie. Liu and Gerber also have fun fleshing out their characters’ unexpected layers, while Nicholas Galitzine makes his football star the densest, most obnoxious meathead possible.
This young ensemble works hard to deliver an R-rated comedy that churns out laughs with one hilarious line after the next, telling an unexpectedly endearing underdog story in the process.
Bottoms had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival and will be released later this year by Amazon/MGM.