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‘Bottoms’ Turns High School Into A Violent, Absurdist Playground

Courtesy of Orion Pictures

The state of the studio comedy has never been more dire. And yet, 2023 has also seen a new batch of filmmakers and stars trying their best to revive it for a new generation. There was the Jennifer Lawrence vehicle No Hard Feelings, the summer cult favorite Theater Camp, the upcoming Dicks: The Musical—even Adam Sandler's family is starring in a new movie on Netflix called You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah. These movies are reminiscent of comedies that have come before, but are younger, modern, and twisted through the perspective of women and/or queer artists. Bottoms, starring breakouts Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott and directed by Shiva Baby filmmaker Emma Seligman, is probably the best comedy of this summer and the best version yet of what this new era of comedy has to offer.

Bottoms follows best friends PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Edebiri), proclaimed the “gay, ugly, and untalented” kids at their high school. In an attempt to try and hookup with the cheerleaders they’re in love with, they’ve devised a convoluted plan to convince all the other kids that they are dangerous juvenile delinquents interested in creating an all-girl fight club. It’s silly and purposely so, a wink at the kinds of comedies they used to make in the '80s like Revenge of the Nerds, mixed with the raunchy rancor of Superbad and tongue-in-cheek intelligence of Mean Girls, but for the queer ladies of Gen Z.

Bottoms sprints at a joke-a-minute pace, ratcheting up the absurdity along with the violence, and satirizing the very idea of teen comedies. The most impressive thing about Bottoms isn’t the jokes, but how much it respects its audience in a way that studio movies haven’t in a long time—particularly young ones. As the movie business has turned into a full-time IP factory, the movies have grown more and more condescending and sophomoric. Audiences are treated like children who need their hands held through Easter eggs and plot contrivances. With social justice initiatives, including #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, as well as younger audiences' calls for progressive imagery, the response has been to simply regurgitate the same garbage that came before but in a more “diverse package,” or to make things in which characters are constantly telling you their feelings. The movies haven’t always been great at letting different perspectives tell their stories in their own unique voices that don't include a guided escort. 

What was most enjoyable about Bottoms was how not-precious it is. The movie makes glib and on occasion macabre jokes about sexuality, feminism, murder, and liberal politics. And then violence becomes the dressing on this dark comic salad, showing its characters' bloody noses and mouths and swollen eyes like badges of pride. Bottoms is also a showcase for its centerpiece stars: Sennott and Edebiri are potential superstars in the making. If that wasn't evident before, it certainly was to me when I made note of the audience's reaction to them and their comedy stylings. And when those two aren't bringing the house down, the movie finds another stealth MVP in former Seahawk Marshawn Lynch, who is funny way beyond the gimmick of simply having him in this kind of a movie.

It's not my place to declare any movie significant to a generation I'm now too old to understand, but there is something so gratifying in this movie's devilish, internet-hardened sense of humor that makes me hopeful it can spark a wave of similarly minded comedy. And taking movie ideas and remixing them from another's perspective is potentially more interesting than simply regorging the same content but with differently hued actors. The creativity and fun is evident in every cell of the movie, and it's infectious. Despite claims to the contrary, comedy is alive and a new generation is ready to do it its own way.

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