The Plot: A big high school football game is coming up, which means that the less-popular female students will have to look out for themselves. After injuring football jock Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), besties PJ (Rachell Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are marked girls. They decide to set up a school self-defence class or fight club for short, with the aim of teaching their fellow students how to defend themselves. They also have another motive: they have their eyes set on winning the hearts of popular students Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu). Let the games begin…
The Verdict: It might have got a bit lost along the way during the pandemic, but Shiva Baby was one of 2020’s best films and one of the most memorable feature debuts of recent years. Emma Seligman’s razor-sharp wit translated from her script to the screen with comfortable ease, marking her out as a writer/director to look out for. It was a double-win too for actor Rachel Sennott, delivering withering lines as one narrative disaster piled up on top of another. Both of them have teamed up to write their second outing together, Bottoms. Already something of a sleeper hit in the US last summer, it’s arrived on this side of the pond with great expectations from a fledgling filmmaker. Can the dynamic duo of Seligman and Sennott once again deliver something worthy of their talents and have audiences laughing in the aisles? Er… not really.
Bottoms is a classic case of the difficult second album syndrome. It’s clear that Seligman basked in the success of her lauded debut and has aimed too high – and too low – for Bottoms to ever really succeed. She’s not alone. After the majestic Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly crashed and burned with Southland Tales and never really recovered after that (where is he these days?). It’s not too late for Seligman though, if she can salvage something from the muddled partial mess that is Bottoms. One can see what she’s trying to aim for – a parody of the high school movie shot through with Heathers-style dark humour, while delivering a message about modern female solidarity in the face of the patriarchy and teenage gender politics. Or something.
Not that there are many actual teenagers in this film. Perhaps the funniest (unintentional) aspect of it is that it features some of the oldest high school students seen since Grease. That joke aside though, there’s not much going on in the old noggin here. The script flounders about, taking in the worst excesses of the high school movie (dumb jocks, unsympathetic teachers, popular girls vs supposedly average-looking girls) and turning the volume up to 11. It wants to be the cool new kid in the high school film collection, approaching it from an unorthodox angle involving a fight club among lovelorn girls. The script undoubtedly has some zingers in it (‘Yeah, Hazel, let’s do terrorism’), but they are few and far between. What’s left in between is a lot of shouting, overacting and a plot that zigzags like it’s going for broke. Which it does with an over-the-top ending with lashings of the old ultra-violence, but with little narrative impact.
In most of the world Bottoms is going straight to streaming and to be honest, that’s where it really belongs. It just about scrapes a pass due to the liveliness of the concept and the intrigue of watching Seligman and Sennott reteam – they make a good pair. It lacks the sophisticated humour of their previous outing though, rendering it a strangely ineffective film that bludgeons its audience into submission rather than win them over. Hopefully, the two of them will go on to better things after this misfire.
Rating: 2 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Scrapes a pass
Bottoms (USA / 15A / 91 mins)
In short: Scrapes a pass
Directed by Emma Seligman.
Starring Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Ruby Cruz, Kaia Gerber, Havana Rose Liu, Nicholas Galitzine.