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Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott are feminist heroes despite their own best efforts in "Bottoms."

Rachel Sennott is neither gay nor Jewish, yet she keeps playing characters who are one or both of those things. So it was in Olivia Peace’s Tahara and Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby, and now she’s co-written the violent slapstick high-school comedy Bottoms with Seligman. The movie weirdly plays like Pitch Perfect with a lot less singing and a lot more face-punching. I’m down for that.

She plays PJ, platonic friends with Josie (Ayo Edebiri) since childhood, and the two are not the only openly gay students at their school, but “gay, untalented, and ugly,” as the school principal refers to them over the school’s P.A. system. The dumb jocks at the school bully them, and when Josie brushes the quarterback of the football team (Nicholas Galitzine from Red, White, & Royal Blue) with her car at 2 mph, he goes down howling like he’s suffered cruciate ligament damage. The resulting scandal and the school-wide harassment of girls gives PJ the idea to found a self-defense club, where she and Josie will teach the girls to punish guys who overstep their bounds. In reality, our unheroic heroines have never been in a real fight, but they’re hoping to use the club to hook up with their respective girl crushes (Kaia Gerber and Havana Rose Liu) or any other girl who might be interested.

It’s no wonder that there’s febrile chemistry between our two lead actresses, who roomed together as college students at NYU and have collaborated on other projects since, such as the comedy web series Ayo and Rachel Are Single. Edebiri has been a ubiquitous presence in this summer’s movies (Theater Camp, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, and the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie), and she plays Josie as the one who’s pointing out the potential pitfalls in the self-defense club while Sennott’s PJ charges ahead. The dynamic is well captured, and they share a montage where we see just how bad these girls are at flirting.

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The other girls in the self-defense club are deftly characterized by actors who do the job by improvising — Virginia Tucker as the gorgeous cheerleader who joins the group, Summer Joy Campbell as the way-too-intense girl with a mysterious grudge against her stepdad, and Ruby Cruz as the one girl who sees what the club could be, and whose mom (Dagmara Domińczyk) is having sex with that quarterback. Even former NFL star Marshawn Lynch contributes as the history teacher who reads porn magazines in class and becomes the club’s faculty advisor.

Seligman is the non-binary filmmaker who went to school alongside the leads. (I misgendered them in my review of Shiva Baby, so my apologies.) Where they had trouble paying off the tension in their previous movie, this one ends with a massive brawl at the homecoming game between the girls and the opposing school’s football team. It’s not the most imaginative way to go, but it does get the job done. Seligman has enough skill stitching together this film’s set pieces that you can overlook the actresses being Evan Hansen’s age, or the predictability of Josie and PJ being found out and having a falling out between themselves. I wish that Seligman had done more with the supreme irony that these girls consider the club a safe space when it’s the place their friends might kick them in the crotch.

Still, the director/co-writer infuses this thing with enough energy to carry it over its rough patches. Right-wing politicians have spent this entire election cycle demonizing LGBTQ kids to win votes, and if all that has left you wanting to hit back, Bottoms is the movie for you.

Bottoms
Starring Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott. Directed by Emma Seligman. Written by Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott. Rated R.

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