top of page

In Bottoms, the Joke is on All of Us

(Ayo Edebiri as Josie, Rachel Sennott as PJ, Zamani Wilder as Annie, Summer Joy Campbell as Sylvie, and Havana Rose Liu as Isabel)

Ahh, high school... The jocks, the cheerleaders, the nerds, the homecoming games, and the fight clubs with secret gay motives. Bottoms, the new film from Shiva Baby writer/director Emma Seligman, is a riotous and surreal spin on the high school comedy as we know it. It has all the hallmarks of a familiar coming-of-age comedy (unattainable crushes, challenged friendships, Friday night lights) while simultaneously making fun of these common plotlines. When self-proclaimed ugly, untalented lesbians PJ and Josie feel hopeless about their virgin statuses, they begin a school-sanctioned fight club to attract hot cheerleaders. Bottoms is violent fresh, and refuses to take anything remotely seriously. There is a distinctly millennial and gen z obsession with self awareness that shows through the characters and the movie itself. It’s a charming ride from start to finish, and any fan of Bring it On or She’s the Man will rejoice at this updated and outrageous end-of-summer flick.

While millennials and gen z argue constantly over their differences on the internet, the one thing both generations can agree on is the existence of cringe. One of the biggest laughs from Bottoms follows an inspiring speech from PJ, where club member Silvie bursts into a series of deranged screams, repeatedly screeching, “Yes, queen, yass.” While this startling (and hilarious) outburst of support may be attributed to Silvie’s penchant for huffing glue, it highlights how slang like “slay” falls passionately in and out of fashion. The characters limit themselves in the first five minutes, self-categorizing themselves as ugly and untalented lesbians. Kaia Gerber’s Brittany casually mentions that she only exists as an extension of fellow cheerleader Isabel. They all know exactly where they stand and take little interest in changing.

The universe of Bottoms takes pleasure in its exaggeration. The quarterback, Jeff, is an illiterate and whining man-child, adored by his town and pampered beyond compare. Classes only last five minutes, and posters for the football team read, "Get horny." While female solidarity isn't the club's point, Boots Riley-esque reminders of the patriarchy flood each scene (a poster proclaiming, "Smile, he might be looking at you" comes to mind). While taken to the extreme, the characters are only behaving exactly as designed by preceding pop culture, making the film excel in satire of gender politics, teen flicks, and young generations.

In the age of constant reboots, Bottoms achieves a unique spin on the coming-of-age comedy through devout appeals to nostalgia. From the notable goth kid/stand-in scribbing in his noteabook about blowing up the school (JD from Heathers) to an inspiring story about underdogs teaming up in the suburbs outside of Chicago makes the film feel like a blood-soaked John Hughes flick.

Like other films in this genre, the stakes remain pretty low (even when murder and terrorism are involved). When PJ and Josie argue with the club and each other, audiences likely won't expect the damage to last (which it doesn't). While the two main characters are lesbians, the movie's tone isn't stretched into a contemplative meditation on queerness. Seligman and Sennott wholeheartedly trust the audience to understand the satire, which is why Mr. G's comments about "knowing that all women are evil" isn't met with boos from the audience or a lesson in feminism 101 from Josie and PJ. Some movies might like to tell their audiences, "girls can do anything", but in Bottoms, we're simply shown what they are (and aren't) capable of.

The film's success can also be greatly attributed to its excellent cast. Longtime collaborators Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri are a delight to watch together, and their deliberately awkward comedic chemistry is the backbone of Bottoms. Not enough can be said for the wild and infantile performance by Nicholas Galitzine as Jeff and the absurdly protective Miles Fowler. Former NFL player Marshawn Lynch reportedly improvised many of his lines, and every word coming out of his mouth was an enthralling surprise. Havana Rose Liu as Isabel is incredibly charming, and unlike other films, which reduce romantic leads to nothing but a pretty face, Liu earns (and performs) some incredible laughs.

While the film's first act feels mostly grounded in reality, it's a blast to see the film get increasingly absurd. Props and extras assist in setting the tone of this glitzy take on Americana when the characters feel too real (think of the caged wrestler in the background of the early classroom scenes and the diner menus offering cream pies on a romantic date). The climatic finale, which reminds us that you can't start a fight club unless you go out with a fight, rivals the best fight sequences of the 21st century. Between blood-soaked cheerleading uniforms, lesbian-obsessed spectators, and delayed explosions, the film's final scene exemplifies the absurd, slick, and horny atmosphere.

Bottoms is, above all else, a great time. Some characters might lack depth (whether deliberate or not), but it's a raucous and bloody satire, which is what it promised to be. It's an excellent way to spend 90 minutes and a brilliant homage to the teen flicks of years past.

Written by Mary Leer

bottom of page