Moving Pictures
Aug 31, 2023, 06:26AM

Girl Fight

Bottoms is a smart parody of toxic masculinity and modern feminism.

Bottoms official poster.jpeg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Bottoms is the second film from director Emma Seligman, who made 2020's outstanding Shiva Baby. A rare film to jump from the Jewish film festival circuit to streaming ubiquity, Shiva Baby starred actress Rachel Sennott in a breakthrough role as a messy bisexual in her early-20s, attending a nerve-wracking post-funeral family gathering. The new film, co-starring Sennott as a queer character, is equally effective, but different in just about every other way.

Bottoms is a pure comedy, with surrealist touches and a refreshing audacity. Heathers is a clear inspiration, both in the way it depicts teenage female rivalry, and its surprisingly casual attitude towards violence. It’s also a much better version of what Olivia Wilde's Booksmart was trying to do a few years ago. The surrealism starts with the casting of Sennott and The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri—both 27 and playing grown adults for years—as high school students. The two play best friends, both gay, who go to extreme lengths to try to get laid by the end of senior year. It involves a lie about juvenile detention, a school-sanctioned fight club, and the participation of future Football Hall of Famer Marshawn Lynch.

Bottoms, which Seligman co-wrote with Sennott, lifts one of Booksmart's better ideas: they're out, proud, and accepted by those close to them. They just haven't figured out the part about hooking up with girls, which has been the driving force behind the last several decades of movies about heterosexual male nerds.

The two stars each have crushes on popular girls (Havana Rose Liu and Kaia Gerber) and come up with an offbeat plan to woo them—by setting up a school fight club, where they can bond with their crushes, along with a group of oddballs. Marshawn Lynch steals several scenes as their teacher and faculty adviser. I wasn't aware he was an actor, although he did appear in a few episodes of Westworld. On top of his winning presence, Lynch has generously agreed to appear in a film that suggests the sport to which he has dedicated his life is the root of all evil.

Bottoms is a smart parody of toxic masculinity and modern feminism, and makes some sharp points without coming across as smug. The film shows out real sexist double standards, and also that its heroines are leveraging modern social justice language in order to get laid. It’s also set in a bizarro version of high school that’s about 15 degrees skewed from reality. It's a school where the football team rules, the football players wear their full uniforms all day, and the morning announcements are delivered by a guy who sounds like a strip club DJ.

The two leads are strong, with Edebiri delivering another fine comedic performance after her memorable role a few weeks ago in Theater Camp; I stopped noticing after about 10 minutes that she and Sennott aren’t high school-aged. Ruby Cruz is the standout from the fight club scenes, as a high school girl with unlikely skills. Nicholas Galitzine, last seen as the smitten Prince in Red, White and Royal Blue, has dumb-guy energy as the top football star.

With Bottoms, Emma Seligman has shown herself not only a superlative filmmaker, but a versatile one.


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