The first rule of promoting Bottoms is that you do talk about Fight Club. After all, David Fincher's bruising satire of toxic masculinity is one of the touchstones for the uproarious high school comedy conceived by the Shiva Baby team of co-writer/star Rachel Sennott and co-writer/director Emma Seligman. "It's a seminal movie," Seligman, 28, tells Yahoo Entertainment about the blunt-force impact of Fight Club on Bottoms. "I tried not to rewatch it before directing Bottoms, but I ended up doing that a few times for a couple of visual references. I love it so much."
But the director also confesses that she'd love it if Fincher never saw those references with his own eyes. "Part of me hopes he doesn't see Bottoms," Seligman says with a laugh. "I hope he just hears about the movie and is like, 'Cool.'"
Of course, if Fincher does nab a ticket over the film's opening weekend — maybe even on National Cinema Day — he's guaranteed a bloody good time. Bottoms has been delighting preview audiences since it premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in March with its wild mixture of Heathers-style dark comedy, Not Another Teen Movie-style broad slapstick and, of course, Fincher-style violence. Bottoms follows high school seniors PJ and Josie (played by Sennott and The Bear breakout star Ayo Edebiri), two queer best friends who start their school's very first all-female fight club as a way to spend time with their respective cheerleader crushes, Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu).
"It's the kind of movie the younger me wishes I could have had in high school," says the openly queer director, whose actual high school years coincided with the release of milquetoast mainstream teen fare like Monte Carlo and The Last Song where queer characters and themes were kept to the margins if they were represented at all. But Seligman also remembers how a movie like Karyn Kusama's 2009 flop-turned-Gen Z favorite Jennifer's Body would come along ever now and then and rock her world.
"That was the first time I remember seeing a queer kiss in a teen movie, and I was like 'Woah,'" Seligman says, adding that the lip-lock between Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried in Jennifer's Body has aged better than the Sarah Michelle Gellar-Selma Blair kiss from that seminal millennial queer text Cruel Intentions. "Anytime two women were kissing onscreen, they were being objectified and sexualized through a male gaze," the director remembers of the Cruel Intentions era. "The fact that Jennifer's Body was directed by Karyn Kusama made it feel more intentional for me."
Seligman's formative brush with Jennifer's Body very much informs how she directs the queer kissing scenes in Bottoms. "Our reference points for those scenes were more romantic and less sexual," she explains. "Rachel and I always asked, 'How does this help the story?' We wanted the scenes to feel earned and motivated by the character's desires and make sure the actors feel super comfortable with physical intimacy and believe their character are excited to make out. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense."
Seligman also felt it didn't make sense for the girl-vs.-girl fights in Bottoms to resemble the blood-free violence that dominates comic book movies or the highly stylized R-rated action popularized by John Wick and Atomic Blonde. "I wanted it to feel real and gory, like they're not good at fighting," the director says, pointing to movies like Kick-Ass as complementary creative cornerstones to Fight Club. "The blood and gore in those movies feel really authentic, and I didn't want to be afraid of having these girls actually look like they were fighting each other."
"I've definitely heard shocked reactions when the first punch is thrown," Seligman continues, referring to the first fight scene between PJ and Josie, which leaves the former with ugly bruises. "There's a big gasp from the audience that I'm always a little surprised by considering that the whole set-up of the movie is that it's gonna be about a fight club!" Seligman acknowledges that part of that shock is likely due to the sight of teen girls — albeit teen girls played by adult actors — engaging in the kind of visceral violence that male characters of all ages are able get away with. That's a double standard that's at least as old as The Powerpuff Girls.
"Furthering representation means being able to show female or queer characters doing sh***y and messy things, like fighting each other," Seligman says. "The stuff that men have been allowed to do onscreen for so long. There's hesitance to seeing that [from women] for sure and for many reasons. Fortunately, I haven't heard any specific criticisms like that about Bottoms, but I'm also not on the internet."
It's not lost on the filmmaker that Bottoms is arriving in theaters at a time when there's a concentrated pushback on queer stories within more conservative regions of the country. But Seligman thinks that the current generation of LGBTQ teens is adept at finding the stories that resonate with them by any means necessary. "Queer audiences have been able to find our stories when they otherwise haven't been widely accessible for a long, long time. So I have faith that they'll find a way watch this movie if they want to."
"But it might also not be for everyone," Seligman adds with a laugh. "I definitely wanted queer teens who were horny, hormonal and selfish to watch it. It really is for a younger me the younger me I wish I could have been in high school. I hope that applies to queer kids now, but maybe they won't identify with it at all!"
Bottoms premieres Aug. 25 in theaters.