Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

PJ and Josie’s Summer

Bottoms explores a character’s ability to behave badly, which is not limited to athletes and popular kids. Although the story follows a standard structure, it allows the protagonist to make big mistakes that are acceptable. The main character, PJ, played by Sennott, has sharp, unapologetic lines, unrepentant bad behavior, and humanity buried beneath her thorny insecurity. In the first scene, PJ and her friend Josie complain about their uneventful summer in terms of sex. They start making moves on the people they like, with PJ pining for Brittany, who looks like a model and is close to Josie’s crush, Isabel, the girlfriend of über-bro Jeff, their school’s quarterback. After clashing with the football team and not correcting their friend Hazel’s assumption that they spent the summer in rehab, the two friends find themselves in the principal’s office.

PJ and Josie create a complicated lie that leads to the formation of a self-defense fighting club for girls, hoping it will lead to a fight with Brittany and Isabel. The club is not about teaching young women solidarity and how to protect themselves from their rival school, Huntington, which has a reputation for rape and other violence, leading up to the climax of the Big Game. Instead, it is about sex. The group includes a number of young women, ranging from Sylvie, who likes to sniff glue and is eager to kill someone with a sword, to black Republican girl Annie, who proudly declares that her vagina belongs to the government. The group begins to bond, learn real fighting skills, and feel empowered for it. They even take a cue from David Fincher’s Fight Club and participate in explosive vandalism.

By the time the film reaches its bloody end, all rules or realism have long been forgotten, but there is also a genuine emotional feeling of tone control and impressive character work on Seligman’s side.

A Different Stylistic Approach

The first collaboration between Seligman and Sennott was Shiva Baby, which quietly disturbed audiences and took place almost entirely within the span of one afternoon after its release, further ensnaring Sennott’s character in a network of flat and unpleasant humor. For their follow-up, the collaborators have taken a very different stylistic approach, putting a strange twist on teen sex comedies like Superbad and American Pie. They have replaced the death by a thousand cuts of Shiva Baby with an expansive joyfulness. It ultimately fails, but Bottoms confirms that Seligman and Sennott are a major new force in American comedy.

Sennott and Edebiri previously co-starred in the very short and very funny Comedy Central series Ayo and Rachel Are Single, in which they comment on current sexuality and relationships, a good foundation for the humor in Bottoms. The real world on screen is always a few steps removed from reality. This is the kind of film that may be considered irresponsible by the wrong and unaccustomed audience with its post-ironic intelligence. Football players wear full field gear to class. Marshawn Lynch teaches feminist history. The slogan for the upcoming football game is Get Horny! Instead of washing cars, the self-defense club members sell their used underwear.

On the other hand, the script is filled with laugh-out-loud lines destined to become quotes. When Josie finally brings Isabel to her bedroom, the popular girl takes one of Josie’s hoodies and says she always wanted one, but her mom said they hid her figure and made her look ugly. The script has a way of understanding the underlying stereotypes of a character, who they are, and what they would never say in the real world, and it’s very smart and funny. But most of the characters are more than meets the eye.

Needle Drops

In one of the early scenes of the class, a student is shown in a cage but not named. Later, we find out that he is the best wrestler in school, perhaps only allowed out for matches. The football players wear their uniforms all the time for reasons that cannot be explained. PJ cites feminism as a reason to start a fighting club or self-reliant group, but Josie shows that she actually hates feminism. Her best friends agree with the rumor that they spent the summer in juvenile detention, with Josie spicing up the terrible stories of surviving to the horror of their classmates.

The film features a lot of needle drops, including the use of the very comedic karaoke song, Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, and extra-modern rhythms performed by Leo Birenberg and Charli XCX. It happened one by one, like candy falling off a conveyor belt. There is one painful moment where Bottoms drops the unserious tone for a serious moment between PJ, Josie, Hazel, and their club members. Gathering together on the basketball court at Hazel’s suggestion that they get to know their members better, the group begins to share traumatic stories of assault, stalking, and frustration with police slowness. The moment doesn’t last long, Josie then details her “time” in juvenile detention.

Nonetheless, this is an effective nod to the real violence experienced by girls their age before returning to their rough-and-tumble training.

Intriguing Supporting Performances

There’s a lot to explore in this situation, including some intriguing supporting performances, notably Marshawn Lynch, the former NFL running back, who plays the role of the quirky faculty advisor of the fighting club, and Ruby Cruz as Hazel, the stylish classmate who, unsurprisingly, goes unnoticed by PJ. The script also introduces several challenges, like when a student named Annie voices her concerns about a second wave of self-interest, realizing that PJ and Josie prioritize their personal goals over sisterhood. It’s this latter aspect that leaves us feeling the most unsatisfied and ultimately somewhat let down.

Not much can be learned from the fact that PJ is one of the most significant deceivers and disruptors in history, using her talent for sarcastic banter to cynically convey messages of empowerment. Although the film takes place in a highly stylized world where football players are always in uniform, and teachers read teen magazines in class, oddly enough, the film is more at ease exploring exaggerated violence than fundamental sexuality.

The Pinnacle of Excellence

Many of the comedies that served as inspiration for Bottoms come across as uninteresting, adhering to a straightforward and uncomplicated aesthetic. They are characterized by their bright and simplistic approach to visuals, primarily relying on punchy editing to support humor. Nevertheless, Seligman collaborates with Maria Rusche to reintroduce smooth camera movements, precise blocking, and humor seamlessly integrated into the visual aspect. Rusche exhibits an extraordinary understanding of spatial dynamics, using focus and zoom techniques to accentuate humor. She draws inspiration from comedy, the thriller style of David Fincher, and sports films to define the visual identity and atmosphere of Bottoms.

The film’s production designer, Nate Jones, takes cues from classic teen comedies to craft a high school setting that exudes a nostalgic charm, striking a delicate balance that prevents it from feeling outdated. Instead, the film possesses a timeless quality, contributing to its enduring appeal. For the majority of its tightly-paced duration, Bottoms attains the zenith of its excellence. While it frequently delivers humor, it consistently falls short of providing gratifying outcomes. Moreover, it refrains from delving into an exploration of, let alone dismantling, the deceptive hierarchy entrenched within American high schools, a foundational aspect that continues to endure.

Embracing Humor and Realism

Bottoms satirizes typical high school films, where all the actors seem to be in their thirties. There should be opportunities for lessons in maturity for those on the brink of adulthood. PJ and Josie do indeed learn valuable lessons but must endure bruised faces, bloody noses, and more than just superficial injuries. Bottoms departs from the John Hughes-style films and allows the girls to take the lead, not as passive individuals or waiting for someone to transform them. They are the unconventional ones; they are the intellectuals. They have the freedom to make mistakes, be gritty, make coarse jokes, and even shed blood. Seligman and Sennott fully embrace these jokes, right up to the end-credit blooper reel.

Moreover, one can heave a sigh of relief because Bottoms doesn’t feel compelled to convey its political views or categorize everyone, a common trend in many contemporary films. Such messages are often well-received, as seen in Barbie, but frequently mishandled. Seligman has enough trust in the audience to comprehend the sexuality and strong personalities of PJ and Josie, who possess their own flaws, while also recognizing that they don’t conform to the predefined feminist archetype, which adds depth to their characters. The primary focus is not politics; it’s sexual desire, a rarity among teenage girls in films.

Regardless of the cultural interpretations, Bottoms is undeniably humorous. Most importantly, Seligman navigates the terrain cautiously, avoiding full-fledged parody, preserving authentic emotional moments for the characters, and ensuring that no scene passes without hearty laughter.

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