Wednesday, September 6, 2023


The crude, snarky R-rated teen comedy Bottoms has ideas gesturing toward the concept of funny without ever really getting there. It’s the sophomore effort for writer-director Emma Seligman, whose anxiously amusing Shiva Baby was one of the better debuts in recent memory. That movie, a nerve-pinching stress-laugh comedy of manners, was a fine star turn for young comedian Rachel Sennott and a cast of character actors stuck in the most awkward funeral reception imaginable—or at least since Neil LaBute remade Death at a Funeral. Seligman is a talented writer of filthy sharp-tongued barbs and a capable director of cringing exchanges. Her latest does well to continue developing her reputation as a filmmaker with a distinctive voice. But there’s small delight to find Bottoms is the kind of unsuccessful movie only a talented filmmaker could cobble together. It’s an excessive, exaggerated goof on the usual oversexed heteronormative teen comedy. The leads, played by Sennott and The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri, are the typical awkwardly virginal dork protagonists this sort of picture often brings, but this time they’re lesbians. That gives a slightly fresh—albeit hardly original—spin to the expect flop-sweat antics as they try to get the hot popular girls’ attention. The duo is funny enough in their slack, improvisational dirtiness and all-elbows casual-insult friendship to carry a lot of silliness. Their school, though, is a bloodthirsty hyper-masculine football cult—complete with a phallic mascot and double entendres on every flyer. The team prowls around school like a wolf pack, intimidating and blustering with bullying thin-skinned toxicity. And so it makes perfect sense in that permissive environment that the leads’ irresponsible teacher (Marshawn Lynch) would allow them to start a school-sanctioned all-girls Fight Club. Sure, that might get some of the hot cliques’ attention. But if you wonder if that’d lead to a Project Mayhem-style conclusion—well, an exploding van would let you know the answer well before a climactic bloodbath on the football field. The characters all stand perpendicularly to reality in a place that’s parallel to ours—an amped-up nonsense world of sex and profanity and violence that sails beyond the usual excesses of the genre into a nowhere land. It’s not exactly a satire of its form; nor does it have any clear thematic concerns beyond goofing around with how far it can push and pull different tropes into its bloody aims. I’m sure one could make a sharp point juxtaposing casually normalized sexualized youth with crowds willing to shrug off bloody teenagers—the movie dances around topical concerns before settling on vague nothings—but Bottoms is more interested in coarse insults, cynically casual outrages, and the sort of half-baked world-building that leaves something real and interesting—and funny!—stranded in an unconvincing simulacrum of a teen comedy.

Much more to my teen comedy liking is You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah. It’s cute and clever, as its broadness and obviousness and good humor are hammered home in comforting style like a pleasing pop song over a sitcom montage. But the emotions in it are deep and true and resonate, too. The movie is a totally charming work of comic empathy with high emotional stakes and small family dramedy. It’s also, maybe first and foremost, a love letter from Adam Sandler to his daughters, who here play his character’s daughters. There’s something genuinely moving about how much this picture plays off of Sandler’s love for his family. He takes a supporting role, while his younger daughter, Sunny, plays an awkward middle-schooler navigating the world of quarreling besties, dreamy boys, and mortifying menstruation. All this and a looming Bat Mitzvah, too? What’s a girl to do? The movie comes on like a modern-day Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret updated for the Snapchat and TikTok generation. It’s not nearly as annoying as that might sound. There’s some earnest tangling with ideas of young womanhood and religious awareness, as well as the requisite dramas of junior high social strife. The movie is juvenile enough to bubble over with the giddy, all-consuming importance of these milestones and mishaps alike, but wise enough to step back with a sense of perspective and proportion. That’s the fine double act of having both the adorable, high-energy commitment of the 14-year-old Sandler playing the adolescent drama, yearning, and confusion at full tilt, while the elder statesman Sandler (having aged into the most lovably paternal form of his screen persona) does his most shaggily charming wise-acre father act cutting the tension and wryly dropping in punchlines with ease. The movie’s colorful high-gloss look and generous ensemble of funny familiar faces adds to the comforting sitcom style, while its widescreen sheen and pounding pop music soundtrack gives it enough silver screen oomph to make every outsized emotion fill the space. It swoons and spurns and embraces and learns right along with its lead, and smiles knowingly at how these emotions are so big only because they’re all new to her. All this it accomplishes with a fine teen comedy flair, with the best Sandler mix of knowing irreverence tied to deep sentimental commitment. This is easily one of his most appealing films, and one of the most delightful teen comedies to come along in a long time.

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