Two unpopular queer high school students start a girl's fight club to have sex before graduation.
Directed by Emma Seligman and co-written with Rachel Sennott, the star of Seligman’s debut feature Shiva Baby (2020), Bottoms hits all of the classic US high school tropes within the first few minutes: football teams ruling the school, student insecurities, and even jokes about shootings. Seligman’s sophomore film is hilariously dark and a huge creative leap forward. It also exudes confidence and a love for the teenage sex comedies of the 1990s and 2000s.
Starring real-life NYU roommates Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri, Bottoms follows two unpopular queer high school students who accidentally “injure” their school’s star quarterback and become embroiled in the lie that they’re hardened criminals who killed people in juvie over the summer. Hoping the rumour will help them lose their virginity to their crushes before they graduate, PJ (Sennot) and Josie (Edebiri) start a girl’s fight club.
The ludicrous plot is bolstered by the heightened absurdity of high school. The football players wear their pads all the time, even in class and when having sex with a classmate’s mom going through a midlife crisis. Posters on bulletin boards encourage women to smile all the time because ‘he might be looking.’ A football player acts like he’s been shot when tapped by a car going one mile an hour. From the start, Bottoms playfully dives into an early-’00s US high school in a way that’s unique and hilarious.
Sennott and Edebiri are effortlessly funny and dynamic on screen, giving the impression of veteran actors. Sennott’s PJ is a steamrolling, manipulative teen who’ll stop at nothing to get her crush to like her, even if it means putting her friends in danger. Edebiri’s Josie is the perfect foil, an anxiety-ridden teen so afraid of her crush that she convinces herself she’ll marry a closeted Methodist preacher and let down her hypothetical son. Bottoms ensures that, despite their comedic antics, their humanity remains intact.
Sennott and Edibiri’s chemistry is electric, and they should co-star in every movie from now on. The rest of the cast complements them perfectly: Ruby Cruz gives a nuanced performance as Hazel, an often-overlooked queer teenager who wants to feel seen and help her friends, even if it means setting off the occasional bomb; Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), the object of Josie’s affection, leaves her manipulative, idiotic ex-boyfriend, the football star Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), and embarks on her own journey of self-empowerment; and hot cheerleader Brittany (Kaia Gerber), who isn’t as mean as she initially seems as her relationship with PJ deepens. The rest of the fight club (Zamani Wilder, Summer Joy Campbell, Virginia Tucker) is full of lovable, eccentric, and relatable characters who embody adolescent awkwardness in unique ways.
With so much emphasis on the high schoolers, the lack of adults in the film sometimes feels almost Peanuts-esque. But, the few that are there round out the cast so well. One highlight is Principal Myers (Wayne Pere) announcing over the intercom, “Could the ugly, untalented gays please report to the principal’s office?” Punkie Johnson also makes an entertaining cameo as a trailer park resident who shares her endless wisdom with Josie. Marshawn Lynch is priceless in every second as the deadbeat teacher, Mr G, who agrees to be the club’s advisor. Although he hates Amelia Earhardt, he opens up his own eyes to feminism for the first time.
Even when the adults are on screen, their own faults are painfully obvious. They give limited supervision to the main cast of youngsters, allowing them to be themselves and make horrible choices.
Despite its quirky premise, the film’s reliance on the traditional three-act structure bogs it down. The characters’ forced rock bottom at the end of the second act derails the film, but it quickly recovers with a hilarious, action-packed, and emotional conclusion at the school’s oft-touted Homecoming game. The ending perfectly encapsulates the film’s use of high school clichés, poking fun at them but doing its own thing. It’s the culmination of the character’s arcs and the absurdity the film has leaned into from the start. With surprising kisses and tons of blood, the last few minutes of the film will have you laughing and smiling until the very end.
Bottoms succeeds because it laughs at all the high school movie clichés while standing on the shoulders of great teen comedies like Clueless (1995) and Mean Girls (2004). It features a rich soundtrack spanning decades and even an old-school blooper reel during the end credits, but it gains its own identity by giving voice to queer characters.
The movies of the 2000s were always straight, finding love between a boy and a girl. Bottoms envisions the classic high school love story with gay characters, but without relying on the homophobia of the age to drive the plot. Queer representation is no longer groundbreaking on screen, but this film gives voice to gay characters in a specific subgenre where they weren’t given the space to be themselves. This is a testament to the passion of the whole cast and crew. Bottoms is one of the funniest movies of the year.
USA | 2023 | 91 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
director: Emma Seligman.
writers: Emma Seligman & Rachel Sennott.
starring: Rachel Sennott, Ayo Ediberi, Ruby Cruz, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Miles Fowler, Dagmara Domińczyk & Marshawn Lynch.