Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2023 4:03 pm 
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(FROM LEFT) AYO EDEBIRI, RACHEL SENNOTT IN BOTTOMS

Funny ho-hum

Bottoms is a queer high school sex comedy that's been generally well received in a season - if not a world - sorely lacking in such things. So one should not be too disappointed that its inventions weren't quite as droll and subtle and its portrait of high school not as colorful as one would have liked. After all, it's not meant to be real or complete. Its picture of teen life is about as serious as John Waters' in Hairspray - a fond memory. Symbolic of this, the football team goes around at all times in full football gear, and are more prima donnas, borderline gay, than macho.

PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are high school seniors and gay best friends without cachet. Before graduation, they'd like to make it with their crushes, Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), two beautiful cheerleaders - or maybe they just want to stir things up, make up for the way even the mean principal cals them "the two talentless lesbians" over the school intercom. What's unmistakably fine is Sennott and Edebiri, Comedy Central vets, who are at ease delivering snappy dialogue and play well off each other as girls who want to make trouble.

Since one of the crushes has been hurt by her footballer boyfriend (the hot English actor Nicholas Galitzine), PJ and Josie come up with a novel idea for a new school hobby club and get it approved: a self defense group. To tout their expertise they encourage a false rumor that they were both in juvie during the summer and seriously roughed up some other detainees, even almost killed one, none of which is remotely true. Soon enough everybody drops "self defense" and just calls the new group the "fight club." "I love David Fincher," one cool girl lets fall.

The movie doesn't start to groove till the club actually gathers to meet, a good dozen and the leaders along with their desired crushes, and the faculty sponsor, the laid back and inappropriately chatty Mr. G. (Marshawn Lynch). Though the film doesn't present much detail about the suburban high school and just gives us stock characters throughout in both the kids (with all the main actors as usual looking too old) and the adults. Luckily there is a tyro terrorist in the club. But if your best memories of a high school movie are girls - and a big school male wrestler - knocking each other down in rough girlie slapstick, and a rich football star's car getting blown up and torched in front of his mansion, where's the comedy, and where even is the plot?

Those for whom this trim comedy (only ninety- one minutes in length) really works don't care about its lacks and see only what it has. Owen Gleiberman in Variety sees it as "unlike any high-school comedy you’ve ever seen." He describes it as "a satire of victimization, a satire of violence, and a satire of itself." Gleiberman says it "walks a tightrope between sensitivity and insanity." His title calls it "a Gonzo Gay 'Fight Club' Meets 'Heathers'." We get glimpses, and that's what keeps us watching. Ideally, it would be that - with a more well-developed script. But time has moved along toward the updated "feminism" this movie refers to, and the girls' personalities are more Fleabag than Heathers.

Whatever its genealogy, Bottoms is a smooth, watchable comedy. Brody of The New Yorker thinks director Seligman was indifferent about character and plot, but, surprisingly in view of that, believes that the casting agent was brilliant, and still more, that the whole thing collectively defines a new generation of teenage movie comedy. Possibly this is so. But in this climate it's a matter of faute de mieux, and the 'better' that it's not as good as is the classics from more favorable times that everybody thinks of and mentions, Heathers, Mean Girls, But I’m a Cheerleader (for the queer high school romance idea) - and you can name others, and again I have to nod to John Hughes and the youth pictures of the eighties, as well as the stars of that time like Winona Rider and Christian Slater. And it is impossible not to mention, though sociological accuracy is necessary and provides an edge, that the vulgarity and F-word-intensity of a teen high school comedy like this make us oldsters understand why younger American parents want not just to put their kids into private school, but to take them to grow up in a whole other country.

Bottoms, 91 mins., debuted Mar. 11, 2023 at Austin (SXSW), showing also at Frameline (San Francisco), Outfest (LA) and Sidewalk (Birmingham). It opened in US theaters Aug. 25, 2013. Metacritic rating:7̶7̶%̶ 74% [Jan. 2024].

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