Review: ‘Bottoms’ (2023), starring Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Dagmara Dominczyk and Marshawn Lynch

August 24, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott in “Bottoms” (Photo by Patti Perret/Orion Pictures)

“Bottoms” (2023)

Directed by Emma Seligman

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedic film “Bottoms” features an predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and a few Asians and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two lesbian best friends start an all-female fight club in their homophobic high school as a way to lose their virginities to cheerleaders. 

Culture Audience: “Bottoms” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and comedic movies where queer people are the central characters.

Ayo Edebiri, Rachel Sennott, Zamani Wilder, Summer Joy Campbell, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber and Virginia Tucker in “Bottoms” (Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures)

“Bottoms” is a bawdy and occasionally bloody comedy that gets gleefully absurd in this story about two lesbian best friends who start an all-female fight club in their high school. The originality outshines some of the film’s clichés. Even people who might not like “Bottoms” can admit that there are many things in this movie that have never been said and done before in a teen-oriented comedy.

Directed by Emma Seligman (who co-wrote the “Bottoms” screenplay with “Bottoms” co-stars Rachel Sennott), “Bottoms” had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. A distracting part of this movie is that the cast members portraying high schoolers look too old (early-to-mid 20s) to be in high school. It’s why all the movie’s raunchy dialogue isn’t as edgy as the “Bottoms” filmmakers probably thought it should be. However, because of the talented cast members, the delivery of this dialogue is entertaining, even if many parts of the movie require a huge suspension of disbelief, including the fact that all the cast members playing high schoolers are not really teenagers.

“Bottoms” takes place in an unnamed U.S. city but was actually filmed in Louisiana. The begins with lesbian best friends PJ (played by Sennott) and Josie (played by Ayo Edebiri) talking about sex. At this pont in time, PJ and Josie, who are both virgins, are students in their last year at Rockridge Falls High School. Their fantasies are to lose their virginities to the cheerleaders at the schools who are their biggest crushes.

PJ is hot for Brittany (played by Kaia Gerber), a tall beauty with a sarcastic attitude. (Gerber, who got her start as a model in real life, is the daughter of former supermodel Cindy Crawford.) Josie is infatuated with attractive Isabel (played by Havana Rose Liu), who is dating the school’s start football quarterback Jeff (played by ), a conceited, dimwitted pretty boy who is a chronic liar and cheater. Isabel and Brittany are best friends.

PJ is bossy and obnoxious, but she’s also hilarious and a generally loyal friend. Josie is more sensitive and thoughtful, but she’s also very insecure and plagued with self-doubt. In their conversations about losing their virginities, PJ is confident that it will happen to her before she graduates from high school. Josie thinks that if she has any chance of getting together with Isabel, it’ll probably be if they see each other at their 20-year high school reunion.

At school, PJ and Josie are outcasts because they’re lesbian and because people have heard that PJ and Josie both spent time in juvenile detention for violent crimes. Josie and PJ are often the targets of bigoted hate. Homophobic slurs are often spraypainted on their school lockers. Even the school’s sleazy leader Principal Meyers (played by Wayne Pére) doesn’t hide his homophobia.

There’s an incident where Jeff insults Josie, and she deliberately injures his leg while driving her car with Josie and Isabel as passengers. Principal Meyers calls Josie and PJ into his office and scolds them for injuring the school’s star football player. Rockridge Falls High School’s Vikings football team has been in a fierce rivalry for about 50 years with the Huntington High School Golden Ferrets. And there’s a big football game coming up between the Vikings and the Golden Ferrets

A story has been going around the school that a Rockridge Falls female student was attacked by a Hungtington male student. And so, when Principal Meyers tells PJ and Josie that they need to find a way to channel their “negative energy,” PJ comes up with the idea to start an all-female self-defense club at the school. (It’s really a fight club.) Principal Meyers says the club will be approved if PJ and Josie can find a teacher to be the sponsor/supervisor. PJ and Josie recruit their history teacher Mr. G (played by Marshawn Lynch), who has a hip-hop persona and is going through a divorce.

Josie is reluctant to go through with this fight club idea, but PJ convinces her by telling Josie that the fight club will be a way that they can find potential sex partners. Josie and PJ are thrilled when Isabel and Brittany end up joining the “self-defense club.” Other students are join the club, to varying results.

One of club members is Hazel Callahan (played by Ruby Cruz), who’s androgynous-looking and openly queer, is an even bigger misfit at the school than PJ and Josie, who try not to associate too closely with socially awkward Hazel. Also joining the club is Annie (played by Zamani Wilder), who is proud to be an African American member of the Republican Party. Other memorable supporting characters in “Bottoms” is Hazel’s frisky divorced mother Mrs. Callahan (played by Dagmara Dominczyk) and Vikings football player Tim (played by Miles Fowler), who is Jeff’s smirky sidekick.

The plot for “Bottoms” is fairly simple and a little bit on the formulaic side. However, the movie’s snappy dialogue and great comedic chemistry between the cast members (especially between Sennott and Edibiri) are definitely not formulaic and make this movie shine. Sennott also starred in Seligman’s feature-film directorial debut “Shiva Baby” (written by Seligman), a comedy/drama that was released in 2021 and re-released in 2023. There’s a final showdown in “Bottoms” that gets very over-the-top in its slapstick comedy. Ultimately, “Bottoms” won’t be a massive breakout for any of its stars, but it’s the type of movie that will get a very devoted following who won’t get tired of watching it.

MGM’s Orion Pictures will release “Bottoms” in select U.S. cinemas on August 25, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on September 1, 2023.

Review: ‘No Exit,’ starring Havana Rose Liu, Dennis Haysbert, Dale Dickey, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl and Mila Harris

February 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

Havana Rose Liu in “No Exit” (Photo by Kirsty Griffin/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“No Exit” (2022)

Directed by Damien Power

Culture Representation: Taking place in California, the dramatic film “No Exit” features a racially diverse group of characters (white, Asian, African American and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: During a blizzard that has caused road blockages and closures, a young woman finds herself trapped in a visitor center shelter with four strangers, when she finds out that a van owned by one of the strangers has a kidnapped girl inside.

Culture Audience: “No Exit” will appeal mainly to people who like any suspense thriller, no matter how idiotic the plot gets.

Havana Rose Liu in “No Exit” (Photo by Kirsty Griffin/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“No Exit” is an apt description for how this mystery thriller gets trapped in its own stupidity. It starts off suspenseful and then it takes a steep nosedive into illogical nonsense. There’s a long stretch of the film, which takes place during a snow blizzard, where the criminal element in the movie frantically struggles to get access to a car to make an escape. Meanwhile, the filmmakers are expecting viewers to forget that the entire point of the movie is that all the movie’s characters who are trapped in the blizzard know that the blizzard has caused the roads to blocked, with police guarding the roadblocks, and an escape isn’t really possible.

It’s not spoiler information to reveal that “No Exit” is about a serious crime that’s been committed, and whoever has committed this crime is in a small group of people at a visitor center shelter during this blizzard. The movie’s protagonist decides she’s going to be a one-woman police force to solve the mystery and get justice for this crime. Directed by Damien Power, “No Exit” was written by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari. The movie’s screenplay is based on Taylor Adams’ 2017 novel of the same name. Even though some of the cast members give good performances, the entire movie has a flawed premise that’s poorly executed in the last half of the film.

“No Exit” begins with protagonist Darby (played by Havana Rose Liu) looking bored and emotionally disconnected in a drug rehab center somewhere in California. (“No Exit” was actually filmed in New Zealand.) Darby is in her early 20s, and she’s in court-ordered rehab for a crime that is not mentioned in the movie. Through conversations in the movie, it’s revealed that Darby has been in rehab or tried to get clean and sober seven times already in her life.

During a rehab group meeting, Darby is told that she has an emergency phone call. When she takes the call, she finds out from her uncle Joe (voiced by David Chen) that her widowed mother has had a brain aneurysm and is in a hospital in Utah. Darby’s mother is scheduled to get a brain operation, but it’s a risky procedure. The medical diagnosis is that Darby’s mother might not have much longer to live.

Darby is estranged from the two family members who know her the best: her mother and Darby’s older sister Devon. And despite Darby’s pleas to make a phone call for this emergency, she’s denied this request by her rehab group leader Dr. Bill Fletcher (played by James Gaylyn) because it’s the rehab center’s rule that patients can’t make outgoing phone calls. Any incoming phone call for a patient has to be an emergency, and the call is monitored by the rehab center staff.

But this obstacle isn’t enough to stop Darby. She borrows a cell phone that was snuck in by another rehab patient, whose name is Jade (played by Nomi Cohen). Jade and Darby don’t like each other, but Jade reluctantly agrees to let Darby use her phone because Darby threatens to tell the rehab officials that Jade broke the rules by sneaking in a cell phone.

Darby uses the phone to call Devon (played by Lisa Zhang), who tells Darby in no uncertain terms that she’s doesn’t want Darby to contact her or visit their mother. Darby says she’s going to find a way to visit. Devon abruptly and angrily tells Darby, “I don’t have time for your bullshit. Don’t call me back!”

This rejection still doesn’t stop Darby. In broad daylight, she sneaks out of the rehab center to steal the car of an orderly named Mike (played by Nick Davies), nicknamed Mikey, who seemed to take pleasure in denying Darby any phone privileges. Darby has also stolen Jade’s phone. Darby’s plan is to take the stolen car and drive to Utah to see her mother. But this trip comes at a very bad time because she isn’t on the road for long when a blizzard hits while she’s in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

One of the first things that Darby found in Mike’s car was a small packet of cocaine hidden in the driver’s window shade. The movie plays guessing games with viewers over whether or not Darby will relapse by using this cocaine. Darby describes her drug addiction as being willing to do any drug that comes her way.

During this blizzard, Darby gets text messages from Devon that say, “Mom doesn’t want you here.” “You’ll only make it worse.” “Don’t come.” Darby is still undeterred. She pulls over on a road to get some sleep, and she has a nightmare that people outside the car are trying to get her. She wakes up to a state trooper named Ron Hill (played by Benedict Wall), who finds out why she’s traveling during a blizzard.

He tells Darby that the only road leading to Utah is closed, and she has one of two choices: She can either reverse and go back to where she came from, or she can stay at a visitor’s center a few hundred yards away. The center is being used as a temporary shelter during the storm. The trooper also mentions that some other travelers are already at the shelter.

Darby decides to go to the shelter. Inside, there are four other strangers. Ed (played by Dennis Haysbert) is a former U.S. Marine who served in Operation Desert Storm. Ed’s wife is Sandi (played by Dale Dickey), a former nurse who met Ed when she was working at a Veterans Administration hospital. This middle-aged couple is traveling to Reno, Nevada, to do some gambling. Rose and Ed are immediately friendly and welcoming to Darby.

The other two people in the shelter are men in their 20s: Lars (played by David Rysdahl) is introverted and eccentric. He’s the type of person who talks to himself out loud when other people are around. Ash (played by Danny Ramirez) is talkative and a little flirtatious with Darby. He can also be crude and insensitive. Darby and the other four people in the shelter make small talk as they get to know each other.

No one in the shelter can get any cell phone service or WiFi service because of the blizzard and because of where they are in this remote mountain area. Still, Darby occasionally goes outside the shelter near the parking lot to see if her phone can pick up a signal. It’s during one of her trips outdoors when Darby is alarmed to see a hand and noises coming from a van parked outside.

She goes inside the van and finds a kidnapped girl, who’s about 9 or 10 years old. The girl is bound and gagged and desperate to escape. However, Darby knows that she can’t use her phone to get help, so she tells the girl that she will help her, but she has to be patient. Darby later finds out that the girl’s name is Jay (played by Mila Harris), as well as more things about who Jay is and why she was kidnapped.

Feeling trapped and helpless, Darby goes back into the shelter and acts like nothing is wrong, in order to figure out who’s the driver of the van. Before she went back into the shelter, Darby noticed that the van has Nevada license plates. The rest of the movie is a ridiculous cat-and-mouse game where Darby tries to solve the mystery and get help for the kidnapped girl without getting caught by whoever is responsible for the abduction. It’s this second half of the movie that unveils some twists and turns, with each becoming more ludicrous as times goes on.

“No Exit” has so many bad decisions, not just with the characters, but also with how the filmmakers staged everything to look so phony in the latter half of the movie. As the flawed hero Darby, Liu does her best to try to make everything in this moronic film believable, but the movie completely buries any credibility with some of the stupid plot twists, just like the blizzard in this movie buries things in the snow. The rest of the cast members are fairly solid in their roles, except for Ramirez, whose performance becomes campier as the story devolves into an irredeemable mess. You know a movie is bad when it’s called “No Exit,” but everything that happens in the last half of the movie is as if the reason for this movie’s title doesn’t exist.

Hulu premiered “No Exit” on February 25, 2022.

Review: ‘Mayday’ (2021), starring Grace Van Patten, Mia Goth, Soko, Havana Rose Liu and Juliette Lewis

January 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Mia Goth, Grace Van Patten, Soko and Havana Rose Liu in “Mayday” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Mayday” (2021)

Directed by Karen Cinorre

Culture Representation: Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, the dramatic film “Mayday” features an almost all-white cast (with one Asian) representing the working-class, and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four young women find themselves on a deserted island and go into combat in a war that’s supposed to represent a war against misogyny.

Culture Audience: “Mayday” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in pretentious movies that try to be clever with symbolism and alternate worlds but fall short in having interesting characters and a coherent plot.

Juliette Lewis in “Mayday” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Some movies take a potentially clever concept and bungle it with a lot of confusing scenes and boring pretension. “Mayday” is one of those misfires. The movie awkwardly mixes heavy-handed preachiness about misogyny with incoherent storytelling wrapped in a war movie. Once viewers understand all the symbolism in “Mayday,” the concept quickly wears thin and becomes an annoying chore to watch.

Written and directed by Karen Cinorre, “Mayday” begins by introducing a woman in her 20s named Anastacia, nicknamed Ana (played by Grace Van Patten), the story’s central character. Ana, who lives and works in an unnamed part of the U.S., is a waitress at an event hall that’s owned and managed by Russian men. She’s teetering on the edge of poverty because she’s been sleeping in her car. Her co-worker Dmitri (played by Théodore Pellerin), who’s a cook at this event hall, tells her one day: “No more nights in the car, Ana.”

Ana needs this job, but viewers soon see that it’s a horrible place to work. During a day when the employees are preparing for a wedding that will take place there, the head waiter (played by Frano Maskovic) takes Ana outside to berate her. Her pushes her up against the wall and yells at her: “Who do you think you are? Amateur!”

Ana goes into a back room for employees. The abusive co-worker follows her, goes into the room, and shuts the door. It’s not shown in the movie, but it’s implied that he has sexually assaulted Ana. This assault sends her into a spiral that’s the catalyst for what happens in the rest of the movie.

Before this assault happened, tension had already been brewing in the workplace on this day. The wedding’s bride and groom show up to check out the preparations. The groom (played by Hyoie O’Grady) is angry and impatient that things are running behind schedule. “Why aren’t you ready?” he yells at the workers.

The bride is a brunette named Marsha (played by Mia Goth), who’s upset and nervous. Marsha is comforted by an event hall employee named June (played by Juliette Lewis), who sees Marsha crying in the bathroom. “I know,” June tells Marsha. “It feels like a nightmare. That’s normal.”

Meanwhile, an ice swan has been prepared as part of the wedding decorations. When the abusive waiter orders Ana to bring the swan, she nervously drops it, and then she runs away. Ana goes into the kitchen and, in a dreamlike sequence, she crawls into the oven.

And the next thing you know, Ana (who’s still in her waitress outfit) is now on a very rocky island. She’s not alone though. Ana is woken up by Marsha, who is now a blonde. And then, Dimtri climbs out of the ocean, introduces himself as a pilot, and says that there’s a war going on. Ana doesn’t see him as her co-worker but as a total stranger, which is the first sign that she’s now in an alternate world. (“Mayday” was actually filmed in Croatia.)

Marsha then drives a motorcycle with Ana on the back. They go to a small inlet, where there’s an abandoned U-boat. Marsha and Ana go down the U-boat hatch, where they meet two other women who are also in their 20s: tough-talking Gert (played by Soko) and quiet Bea (played by Havana Rose Liu). “What brings you here?” Gert asks Ana. Ana replies, “I think I am bird watching.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Marsha is no longer the insecure bride that she was in the other world. On this island, she’s a fearless warrior who teaches Ana how to swim and how to shoot guns. What is this war about and why are they fighting this war?

It becomes obvious when the battle scenes begin, and the four women are fighting against a male-only battalion. These men do not have names, but when Marsha’s angry groom shows up on the opposing side an airman, and the sexual assaulter/head waiter shows up as the opposing side’s submarine captain, you know that these men are supposed to represent misogyny and toxic masculinity.

And in case it wasn’t made clear enough, this conversation between Ana and Marsha spells it out: Ana tells Marsha, “I’ve never been in a war.” Marsha replies, “You’ve been in a war your whole life. You just don’t know it.”

Later, when Marsha teaches Ana how to be a sniper, Marsha says: “Girls make excellent snipers. Snipers endure uncomfortable positions for hours.” Ana replies, “I’m good at that.” Marsha then says, “They know how to make themselves invisible.” Ana adds, “I’m good at that too.”

Most of “Mayday” consists of tediously staged battle scenes and more incoherence. The four women send out distress signals to an entity called the Victory, which promises assistance that never comes. (The distress signal is “May, Alpha, Yankee, Delta, Alpha, Yankee,” which spells out as the acronym MAYDAY.) The Victory is an obvious metaphor for gender-equality initiatives that haven’t been made into laws. (The Equal Rights Amendment is one example.) June shows up later on the island, but she doesn’t add much to the story.

The problem with a misguided movie like “Mayday” is that it makes feminism look like all men are supposed to be the enemy. It doesn’t take into account that there are plenty of good men in the world who treat people with respect. There are plenty of men in the world who believe in gender equality, even though most societies are steeped in giving preference to men when it comes to power and money.

Even if “Mayday” wanted to be a war movie about women versus men, a major problem is that all of the movie’s characters are written with no real personalities. War movies shouldn’t just be about the battle scenes. Viewers have to care about the people in the war, in order to care about who wins or who loses. “Mayday” doesn’t really bother to show who any of these “heroines” really are. They just spout forgettable and often idiotic dialogue.

The message of “Mayday” is obvious to anyone who’s paying attention. But the message is delivered in such a clumsily sanctimonious way, it’s a real turnoff. And the end of the movie is an uninspired disappointment. Simply put: “Mayday” is the type of movie that gives feminism a bad name.

Magnolia Pictures released “Mayday” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 1, 2021.

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