Existing in some kind of warped, super satirical version of our own reality, Bottoms serves up the ultimate version of high school ridiculousness. What makes this film such a brilliant exploration of friendship, horniness, and female empowerment? How does writer/director Emma Seligman manage to hit the cringe comedy sweet spot? By creating a twisted mix of Superbad humor, She’s All That setup, American Pie hijinks, and Not Another Teen Movie vibes, Bottoms is easily the best straight-up comedy of the year.
Lesbian besties PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are the two biggest losers at their high school. On their lockers, “Fag #1” and “Fag #2” await, heinously graffitied. Are PJ and Josie destined to be virgins forever, doomed to a future of being old hags in college? After Josie barely taps the school’s hottest jock, Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), in the knee with her car when defending her popular cheerleader crush, Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), PJ and Josie go from zeroes to schoolwide heroes. Everyone from the janitor to both girls’ crushes take notice of Josie’s alleged vicious attack on Jeff that spreads around the school like wildfire as he dramatically limps everywhere in crutches. Committing a “crime against Jeff” is a punishable offense. Principal Meyers will not stand for this—in fact, he confronts PJ and Josie about it.
Mutually, the two make up an elaborate lie about how they were running a fight club on the side. Their lie will change everything for both parties. What if they started this faux fight club for real? A nugget of an idea balloons into reality, even though at first only the “ugly” people show up. Eventually, even Isabel and her hot friend, Brittany (Kaia Gerber), stumble into their little Self Defense Club. They will need an advisor to keep things going, so who better than suave divorcee teacher, Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch). PJ begs him to be a silent advisor and a “great ally” to support their cause. Still keeping strict to their endgame of sleeping with the two cheerleaders, PJ and Josie double down on their fake story by embellishing details about being having seen some things in juvie. Whatever the reason for starting the club, the effects are tangible. All of these women start to display a hidden sense of confidence, managing to emerge from their shells despite social status.
An ensemble cast this good begs to be praised. Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri brilliantly portray best friends, balancing the other’s reckless abandon. In experiencing popularity for the first time, both girls are forced to confront and discover new aspects of their personalities that aren’t always pretty. Kaia Gerber returns for her second major role since American Horror Story, and is able to expand upon her dramatic prowess. One of my personal favorites was Galitzine’s Jeff, who not only repeats his own name in the third person many times over, but also doesn’t know how to read. Jeff’s visage is plastered over many flyers in the film as the entire town’s veritable sex symbol. He plays the big-bulged stereotypical jock figure with boisterous confidence and childlike glee. At times, Jeff is assumed to be the big bad, but Vikings footballer Tim (Miles Fowler) is perhaps more aggravating. To go alongside the heroes and villains, Bottoms has impeccable scoring to supercharge potentially awkward scenarios. Needle drops include Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” and my personal favorite scene in the film, set to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
Also playing at NewFest Pride, Problemista and Bottoms present queer stories in almost fairy-tale like wonderment. Magical realism seems to be the name of the game this year. Seemingly out of nowhere, the last act of Bottoms takes a gory, action-packed turn for the better. Bottoms imagines a world where every time two specific teams compete, they must sacrifice everything to save their families, one in which slow motion can elevate any given situation, and one where homemade bombs are an easy distraction tool. Emma Seligman’s cartoonish script plays into every preposterous high school movie trope, while still existing in a bizarre exaggerated world of its own making. For fans of rich comedy with clever attention to detail, Bottoms will be a raunchy, laugh-out-loud funny ode to genre flicks of the past featuring a sharp modern twist.
Bottoms screened at 2023’s NewFest Pride, and tops unsuspecting audiences in theaters everywhere on Friday, August 25th.