“I feel like we’ve watched so many male anti-hero stories, whether they’re comedies or dramas or mysteries, and it’s crazy that in 2023, we’re still so hungry for shitty, flawed women on screen.”

–Emma Seligman

A film that changed the game in 2021 was writer/director Emma Seligman’s small independent film, “Shiva Baby,” a comedy about a college student who runs into the man she is sleeping with for money, aka “sugar daddy”, and ex-girlfriend, at a family shiva. The film is contained to the house where people are coming together after a funeral, and it is one of the most uncomfortable and hilarious films I’ve seen in recent memory. It stars comedian and social media star Rachel Sennott, whose expressive face and nuanced performance anchors the film. This was the queer comedy that a lot of us needed that year, since we could very much relate to being stuck in our homes.

That year, Cinema Femme had the third edition of its Short Film Festival online, in which we screened Emma Seligman’s “Shiva Baby,” followed by a Q&A with the writer/director. Being a relatively new festival, I was pleased to see 2,000 people tune in, and almost 3,000 viewers watch the Q&A. “Shiva Baby” would go on to be the recipient for the John Cassavettes Spirit Award in 2022.

“Bottoms” is the sophomore directorial feature for Emma, as she teams up again with Rachel for this film. The two set out to make the queer teen sex comedy they always wanted in their youth, pulling inspiration from films like “American Pie” and “10 Things I Hate About You.” At the crux of the film are two teenage girls, Josie (played by Ayo Edibiri), and P.J. (Sennott), who are simply horny and want to sleep with cheerleaders. Being very unpopular with their peers, they decide to start a “fight club,” masking it as a self-defense women empowerment group. From there, hilarity ensues. Emma is great at crafting scenarios that are uncomfortable to watch at times, yet also cathartic in many ways too. To me, this is one of the best LOL films of the year. I was fortunate to speak with Emma about her film, and the people she collaborated with, like producers Alison Small and Elizabeth Banks, who got her vision and made the film happen. “Bottoms” screens in theaters across the country this weekend.

Emma Seligman

I was struck by the quote I found in the film’s press notes in which you spoke about how crazy it is that in 2023, we still have so few flawed female characters on screen.

I’m still so shocked and excited when I see shitty female characters onscreen, in a way that rattles me to my core. Which shows me that still there is not a lot of them out there. I just think that we haven’t seen enough and I don’t know if there will ever be a point where there will be enough. 

Can you talk about the conception and the inspiration for “Bottoms”?

I just wanted to make a queer teen sex comedy that I wish I could have seen when I was in high school. And Rachel wanted to make something with super horny and selfish female characters. I also wanted them to be kind of heroes. The teen movies I loved while growing up were sex comedies, and ones where guys would fight, like a superhero movie, whether it would be “Spiderman,” or something as bloody as “KICK-ASS.” I was just drawn to films about groups of boys winning to save the day, like “Attack the Block” or “Super-8” and going as far back as “Goonies.” I just wanted to do a queer version of that.

B_01608_R Ayo Edebiri stars as Josie and Rachel Sennott as PJ in BOTTOMS An Orion Pictures Release Photo credit: Patti Perret © 2023 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.

How was it working with Ayo and Rachel together? 

They have worked together so many times throughout school and in their early stand-up days, so it was cool bringing them together again for this project. Creating “Bottoms” felt like a bigger jump for all of us, doing something we love and are already comfortable doing. It was just cool. I think we all felt very proud of ourselves. We were all doing the same thing but on a bigger scale. It’s nice to have two lead actors who are your friends that support you. 

Can you talk about Ruby Cruz? I feel she is a very underrated as an actress, and I loved her as Hazel. She really knows how to take a punch!

She is so unabashedly herself, weird, and unique. I think when we were looking to cast this movie, we were hoping to find actors who brought a real uniqueness and singularity to their roles and went beyond just doing the best performances they could as an actor. And she’s an incredible actor, but we also wanted someone who brought their own shtick. When actors would sit down in hair and makeup, we had five-minute meetings with each of the them to discuss their look for the film in terms of hair, make-up, and costumes–something that would fuse with their character’s vibe. I remember Ruby sat down with the hair and make-up team, and we were like, ‘You should just look like that. I mean your haircut is perfect.’

I think Ruby is also playing a character who knows herself so well. It was cool to see her bring that out of Hazel, and through Hazel’s confidence. I feel like Hazel is secretly one of the most confident characters in the fight club because she knows herself so well. She’s not trying to prove anything to anybody. And that is what sort of makes her a weirdo because everyone in high school is trying to prove themselves.

Can you talk about coordinating the “Turn Around” scene? That by far was my favorite in the film. Great music choice too!

I’m so glad you liked it. That scene was really fun to shoot. We always had it in the script since the beginning. I think it was really fun. Nick dancing inside was a very new addition to the script, closer to when we shot the film. It’s always fun when you’ve had something in the script forever and then it gets more elevated in the process when you are actually shooting. Originally we didn’t see it as such a musical number, and then it became a real set-piece when we were shooting it, and definitely in post as well.

There were so many fun elements of shooting that scene like special effects, there was a stunt driver, there was VFX to super-impose Nick inside, and there were the eggs, along with really cool costumes. Our girls were all in really fun outfits, and that was the first scene we shot with the whole fight club. They had met in stunt rehearsal, but it was the first time they all were on set together.

I’d love to talk to you about some of your behind the scenes people, starting with your DP Maria Rusche. How was it working together again?

Amazing. I rely on Maria for so much. She’s the ultimate support system. She is so talented, and runs her crew with so much grace and kindness. I give a lot of credit to Maria in how she works so hard, and gives me so much of her time. She really cares to carefully, respectively and creatively help me in executing my vision, while being a very creative collaborator, and bringing her own expertise to the project in the process.

How was it to work with Alison Small and Elizabeth Banks on this project?

It is always great to work with people who have a lot more experience than you and get your film and understand it. That’s what they were trying to do. Alison got the movie from the beginning, and it was just so rewarding and validating. Alison is really a to-the-point person. She’s like, ‘I get it, cool.’ She doesn’t bullshit, and neither does Elizabeth. And it was so cool working with Elizabeth because she’s done so many of these kind of comedies, both as an actor, and as a producer and director, especially with “Pitch Perfect.” Obviously our movies are different kinds of camp, but that movie has an absurdity and a weird tone to it that is special and unique. She worked on those films intimately, as the producer and director, it was really cool working with them. 

What do you hope people see in your film?

I just hope that they laugh, honestly, I just hope they are entertained. 

Anything coming up that you can talk about?

Not yet, but I’m working on other queer and Jewish stuff that’s coming up the pipeline. 

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