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By Bradley Lane

Emma Seligman burst into the role of a serious filmmaker right out of the gate with their indie hit debut, the stress-inducing Shiva Baby. With an eye for tight, clear and communicative camera work and a writer’s touch that adds a messy bit of humanity to complicated young characters, I have been looking forward to Seligman’s follow-up since Shiva Baby’s release in 2021. Now reunited with Shiva Baby star, and now co-writer, Rachel Sennot, Seligman has set her sights on the comedies of the late 90s and early 2000s, updating films like But I’m a Cheerleader, Superbad, Not Another Teen Movie and Mean Girls with a humanity that a lot of those films lack, and a fresh new queer perspective on the classic raunchy teen sex comedy formula.

PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are losers. Not because they’re gay; plenty of popular gay students go to their high school, but because they are, “ugly, untalented gays.” As tensions between rival schools heat up leading to their homecoming football game, violence erupts, and PJ and Josie see this as an opportunity to get closer to their respective crushes. Together they hatch a scheme to lose their virginities under the guise of setting up a self-defense club for girls at their school. What results is a hilarious, if formulaic comedy of errors as their plans devolve into violence, mistrust and teenage horny messiness.

As I’ve written about before, studio comedy is a dying genre only recently having seen a resurgence after disappearing for nearly a decade. There is a giant hole in the market for Bottoms to fill, and it is a more than worthy successor to the films for which it has taken its inspiration. The world of teenagers as envisioned by Seligman is inherently ridiculous. The football players wear full game uniforms and pads at all times, the rivalry between high schools leads to attempted murder, and everyone is altogether too horny. It is a hyperbole reflection of the genuine high school experience that sets an idiosyncratic tone for the film that serves to perfectly support the onslaught of mile-a-minute jokes tackling everything from crushes, feminism, queer culture, male privilege, all the way to the cult-like devotion of sports fanatics.

Director Emma Seligman has been friends with co-stars Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri since they met at NYU and that sense of friendship and collaboration is written into the fabric of Bottoms. Everyone is clearly having a great time making this film and the result is a film that feels inviting and human, despite its inherent ridiculousness. The jokes move at breakneck pace, so even when one didn’t land with me perfectly, I never had to wait long for another to connect. A very special shoutout goes to former NFL star Marshawn Lynch as the aloof, but well-meaning teacher that sponsors the self-defense club. His comedic timing has been on display in interviews since he was in the league but given a script and proper platform to work with, he is a commanding and utterly hilarious screen presence.

I suspect Bottoms will quickly be regarded amongst films like Clueless, Mean Girls and Heathers as defining teen comedies of their respective eras. It has staying power written all over it and for a comedy that is truly special and very rare. Bottoms is currently exclusively showing in theaters – 4/5 stars

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