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Redefining teen tropes with a twist: ‘Bottoms’ and the art of R-rated comedy

The official movie poster for “Bottoms.” The R-rated comedy parodies classic High School films. PUBLIC DOMAIN

This review contains spoilers.

Premiering on Aug. 25, “Bottoms” provides incredible R-rated comedy — parodying classic high school comedies that came before, while still telling its own story.

“Bottoms,” the second feature film directed by Emma Seligman, marks the culmination of what has been the summer of R-rated comedies. What were once staples of the box office have been sorely missed the past few years. However, with the releases of “Bottoms,” “Joy Ride” and “No Hard Feelings” this past summer, it is clear that the genre is back and better than ever. And, Seligman’s film is the best of the bunch.

The film introduces us to PJ, played by Rachel Sennott and Josie, portrayed by Ayo Edebiri, who are two lesbian best friends in high school trying to gather the courage to talk to their crushes. The pair is threatened with expulsion after accidentally tapping Jeff, the star football player, in the knee with their car. Jeff’s over-the-top reaction only adds to the already humorous scene.

In an attempt to save themselves, PJ and Josie devise a fake female self-defense club that actually develops into a fight club. In reality, both are secretly motivated to get closer to their crushes. During the film, all of the girls in the club become good friends but eventually have a falling out when the truth behind the creation of the club is revealed. 

The only thing that can re-form the group is the attack that the rival football team threatens their school with during the “big game.” What follows is an exhilarating slow-motion fight sequence where the girls destroy the football players in what can only be described as a bloody, R-rated version of the iconic Ken beach-off in Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie.” 

In one of the weirdest yet funniest finales I have ever seen in film, Josie ends up with her crush, PJ reconciles with her friends and they celebrate on a football field covered with bloody bodies.

This movie has many strengths, with two of its standout elements being its writing and casting. The film was co-written by Sennott and Seligman, and while they had previously worked together on Seligman’s debut feature “Shiva Baby,” this marked Sennott’s debut as a feature film writer. 

The script is a queer parody of the long history of teen movies that came before. Drawing inspiration from iconic films such as “The Breakfast Club,” “Heathers” and “Mean Girls,” it deftly navigates through common high school character tropes which include the dumb jock, the cheerleader and the loser all while skillfully subverting them, and taking them to the utmost extreme. 

For example, Jeff, the football captain, can often be heard muttering his own name under his breath as a form of self-motivation, while the football team’s unwavering devotion to their leader serves as a satirical take on the dumb jock archetype. Josie and PJ, the loser tropes, are often either ignored or have different insults spray-painted on the front of their lockers. While its references are not as specific as other parodies like “Not Another Teen Movie,” the admiration for the source material still shines through.

The film’s cast is undoubtedly one of the standout aspects, with Sennott and Edebiri taking on lead roles and delivering the strongest performances. Josie is portrayed as a sweet character who is deeply in love, yet is far from being naive. Much of her performance is conveyed through her facial expressions, especially her eyework. 

An outstanding moment occurs when Josie is fighting with PJ, who has just falsely blamed her for causing the club to fail. The mixture of anger and pain on her face is clear, even without the dialogue. Sennott’s PJ, on the other hand, is manipulative and in control of everyone around her, as shown through her line deliveries. Every time she delivers a line, it either feels off-the-cuff or previously thought-out, depending on which is needed for the scene in that moment. 

The film also features a very strong supporting cast, particularly Ruby Cruz as Hazel and Marshawn Lynch as Mr. G. Hazel is a lot more serious than the other characters because of her anger, which Cruz plays well alongside the opposing larger-than-life personalities in the film. Lynch plays one of the funniest teaching roles I have seen in a long time, with his complete obliviousness and airheadedness marking him as a comedic gem.

“Bottoms” is a worthy addition to the laundry list of teen comedies, featuring a strong ensemble of actors, a noteworthy script and what can be best described as the year’s best fight sequence.

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