Bottoms up! Shiva Baby duo on reuniting to form their queer teen fight club
Rachel Sennott had one job: Don't read the reviews.
The 27-year-old star of Bodies Bodies Bodies was in Austin for the SXSW Film Festival with director Emma Seligman and costars Ayo Edebiri, Havana Rose Liu, Ruby Cruz, and Miles Fowler in support of Bottoms, their highly raucous teen lesbian fight club comedy. It was day three of the March event and they were doing press when the first wave of critics published their reactions.
"Everyone's like, 'Don't read the reviews!'" Sennott recalls. "Obviously I'm reading it aloud to everyone from my phone in the Sprinter van. We were going between the same two hotels."
She couldn't help herself. The first film she did with Seligman, the panic-inducing Shiva Baby, was released in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. People were stumbling on the indie darling through video on demand. This was SXSW, where they unveiled Bottoms to a packed crowd of rowdy movie lovers. One review to come out of that showing, from Rolling Stone, called the work "the horniest, bloodiest high school movie of the 21st century."
"There were so many lovely queer kids I kept meeting throughout Austin who were like, 'Hi! This means a lot,'" says Seligman, who uses she/they pronouns. "After SXSW with those reviews, when that headline came in, I was like, 'Yeah, we did it. It's over. If everyone hates the movie and s---s on it from this point forward, I feel accomplished.'"
Courtesy of ORION Pictures Inc. Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott as Josie and PJ in 'Bottoms'
Bottoms — opening Aug. 25 in limited release — is nothing like Shiva Baby, which turned the Canadian filmmaker, 28, into the next rising indie talent straight out of New York University. Seligman had used the sugar baby community at school as inspiration for Sennott's Danielle, a college student forced to endure a shiva observance with her family, her much older lover and his family, and her old high school flame. Bottoms, which Seligman started writing with their star during the making of their first film, is about two high school besties — Sennott's PJ and Edebiri's Josie — who haphazardly form an after-school fight club for their female peers in the hopes of hooking up with cheerleaders. Shiva Baby was a 78-minute panic attack you just couldn't look away from. This one takes inspiration from classic high school comedies, from Wet Hot American Summer to Bring It On, and then satirizes them to a pulp.
"We didn't rewatch Superbad or American Pie because I think we didn't want to be influenced by them," Seligman notes. "But definitely we felt like queer women hadn't gotten there due from a teen sex comedy."
The whiteboard Seligman and Sennott used to brainstorm Bottoms was a thing of beauty: "We said we want the girls to fight each other, we want there to be a bomb, we want them to be trying to win over the cheerleaders," Senott recalls. "We had references in our mind in terms of Scott Pilgrim, Jennifer's Body, Jawbreaker, all these different movies. But we also wanted to make sure we weren't [just] doing one and that it was a mashup of genres. It's a campy high school movie, but it's also an action movie."
Yes, more than a little blood is left on the mat in this fight club. "I think no one actually thought that we were gonna make it bloody," Sennott adds. When news broke that they had sold Bottoms to Orion Pictures in 2021, the actress and writer says a press outlet reporting the news put the phrase fight club from the official logline in quotations. "We had our producers calling them being like, 'Did you add quotes?'" Sennott recalls. "And they were like, 'Just for clarity, it's not actually a fight club...?' We were like, 'It's a fight club!'"
The final piece of the puzzle was Edebiri, who happens to be having her own pop cultural moment with a standout performance in Hulu series The Bear. She and Sennott go further back than Sennott and Seligman. The pair performed a few comedic bits together in school (also NYU) before getting a few installments of their sketch series Ayo and Rachel Are Single up on Comedy Central. It's no coincidence that Bottoms and that web series have similar vibes.
"The roles were always intended for Ayo and Rachel, but I feel like [Edebiri's] character was actually written to be quite passive and was probably modeled after, like, Michael Cera or Jason Biggs, just like a nerdy guy," Seligman says. "I feel like somehow we were still all so surprised and excited by how her performance lifted the character off the page and made the character so unique and larger than life, but was still this grounded sort of 'straight man' in this crazy world."
As the reviews have already signaled, it looks like Seligman and Sennott have another hit on their hands, making them two for two. With an intense dramedy and a rip-roaring high school comedy under their belts, what would the pair consider tackling next?
"There was action in this movie. I would love to do a true action movie with her," says the filmmaker. "I would definitely want it to be totally different than the other two," says Sennott. "We need something to strike us and be like, 'Whoa!' " How about a musical? The actress replies, "As long as I don't have to be the singer."
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