If you haven't already, it's time you discovered Ayo Edebiri, the young comedian/actress who appeared earlier this summer in Theater Camp and who’s best known for her work in the acclaimed series, Bear.
In Bear, Edebiri joins a beautiful ensemble as sous chef Sydney Adams. She scores again as a high school lesbian with a crush on a cheerleader in Bottoms, a risky comedy from director Emma Seligman, who directed the indie hit Shiva Baby.
Working from a screenplay she wrote with Rachel Sennott, one of the movie’s stars, Seligman tells a boldly outlandish story about two teens who feign a claim that they've experienced incarceration in “juvie.” Street cred established, they start a high school fight club for young women.
The duo wants to meet “hot” cheerleaders but sells the club as a feminist launching pad and mini-society for self-protection.
Here, Seligman takes her biggest risk. The fight club is no feather-weight sham. These girls push and punch for real, usurping violent strategies usually reserved for men.
The most obnoxious men in the movie are the school’s football players, who -- in blatant parodic fashion -- never take off their uniforms; even during classes, they refuse to shed the signature emblems of their identity.
It’s far-fetched, of course, but Sennott, as the snarky PJ, and Edebiri, as the more wary Josie, are funny and engaging. They’re playing kids who have been tagged as “losers,” but both have an underlying sense of self that suggests they believe in their sensibilities, and the story eventually conspires to teach them that their adopted facades can be as much of a trap as football uniforms.
Bottoms doesn't deal with the ways in which prejudice crushes young gay people. PG and Josie experience bigotry but they’re not isolated and they’re not jittery about declaring their sexual preferences.
Edebiri and Sennott, who starred in Shiva Baby, receive able support from Havana Rose Liu, as Isabel, the cheerleader girlfriend of the school’s principal jock (Nicholas Galitzine). Kala Gerber appears as Brittany, the cheerleader PJ is crushing on.
Ruby Cruz has a nice turn as Hazel, a club member who might be the most dangerously subversive of them all.
Marshawn Lynch was never known for making public statements during his NFL career. Here, the erstwhile Seattle star, known a plays a high school history teacher who accepts the role of faculty adviser to the fight club. Yes, he’s funny.
Even ambitious comedies need plots and I wouldn’t say that Bottoms excels when it comes to storytelling, even though it stages an explosive finale with a riotous flavor that banishes any lingering thoughts of credibility.
The physical violence — between club members and those deemed as antagonists — can cut against the comic grain. People really seem to get hurt; that may be part of Seligman’s strategy. She’s intent on upsetting an apple cart full of cliches about young women.
Seligman eventually softens the proceedings to allow for genuine expression of emotion, a ploy that flirts with genre cliche.
At other times, the movie seems to be straining. Note the inclusion of a horny mom (Dagmara Dominczyk) who's having an affair with Galitzine's high-school hunk of a character.
Not everything about the movie works but Seligman, Sennott and Edebiri are onto something and, like the characters they play, they’re ready to make their mark, even if it leaves a few bruises.