As Emma Seligman’s sophomore feature film, Bottoms, begins, we are introduced to PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), our two protagonists who we will follow in their final year of high school. Much like we have seen in the coming of age, high school comedies of old, these two best friends want their final year to be special, aka they want to have sex with their crushes before they go to college. And just like the past, PJ and Josie are outcasts at their school because they both have come out as lesbians, and thus they stick together against everyone. While you may have heard this setup before, Seligman and Sennott’s screenplay takes massive left and right turns, forcing the audience to go in a gonzo ride as they literally blow up the teen sex comedy and all the stereotypical tropes found within.
When the girls arrive at a high school party early on, we find out that their high school structure is run by the football team. But don’t get it twisted, these players are really player in appearance only, as they are wearing their uniforms throughout every interaction, we see them have in the film. Led by Jeff (Nicholas Galitizane), the players are shown to not be good at football at all, to a hysterical extent, mostly to prove that society has engrained the idea that if you are in this position of power, aka a jock in high school, then you are allowed to get everything you want, and do anything you want, even if you aren’t good at what you do. This also proves that if you are a slightly different, and a woman, then you can be labeled as weird or strange by those in power to also hide their urges that are being suppressed by traditional standards. So, when Jeff and his girlfriend Isabel (Kaia Gerber), who is also Josie’s crush, get into an argument as they are leaving the party, PJ and Josie offer her to give a ride home. But Jeff doesn’t like that and as they move the car forward, he falls to the ground as if Josie ran him over with her car. The football player’s fly to Jeff’s aide, cursing the heavens for what has happened to their leader, while Isabel walks away and the girls are left going to school the next day being public enemy number one.
When they get to school on Monday, rumors have spread that the girls beat up Jeff, as he is seen in crutches around campus, milking his injury. These, along with a misinterpretation during an encounter with a friend of their named Hazel (Ruby Cruz), force the girls into the principal’s office for a discussion as to how they really hurt Jeff. In a moment of panic, PJ and Josie confess that they used techniques from their newly formed self-defense club, or “fight club,” to protect themselves from the boys at their school and the rival school coming to the big football game. This lie gets them out of trouble with the school but gives PJ the idea of actually doing it as a way to get hot girls to come and spend time with them before they try to make their move on their crushes and ask them to be their girlfriends.
From the inception of the club, it is pure chaos, as both friends keep building their lie higher and higher, reaching levels of ridiculousness, even more than the cartoon hand to hand violence seen in their sessions with not just the girls they want to date but with many other girls from their school who are looking to stand up for themselves as well as finding some friends to connect with. But for the club to continue, the girls must enlist their history teacher, Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch) to come in and out sign off on the club, and he does as the girls lean on his heart with a message of feminism and unity. Everything goes to plan for the girls, till one of the football players (Miles Fowler) starts to feel the threat that this new club could become bigger than the football team and threaten the established order that currently exist at the school.
With a pitch perfect script, collaborators Seligman and Sennott have created chaotic comedic genius with Bottoms. There are so many jokes being said in the forefront by this fully formed characters that if you look in the background, you can see more small details that come to pay off later in the film. This is a significant step up from Seligman and Sennott’s first collaborator with 2020’s Shiva Baby (an excellent film in its own right) and shows that even though they were given a bigger budget, they were able to have full control over the wild vision they are presenting. By doing this, they are able to strike a dagger in the heart of the tradition high school sex comedy, taking tried tropes and putting them to bed with confident statements that in order to make something feel new in this genre, you must embrace then destroy everything that has come before it. As everything unfolds in Bottoms, each joke is layered with enough detail and vigor to make them stick in the mind longer than just the initial laugh, making this comedy feel insanely timely and made by multiple people who understand that our modern generation needs more over the top, campy, bombastic comedies like this.
Beyond just the overall vision by Seligman lies the amazing chemistry between Sennott and Edebiri, who bring these true queer characters to life and giving them enough confidence and agency to shine every moment they are on screen. While Sennott continues to prove it is a match made in heaven with her co-writer and director, the revelation in this film is Edebiri, who takes the vulnerability of Josie and provides the perfect mixture of swagger and belief in her character to make come to life so effortlessly. Ruby Cruz and Marshawn Lynch also deliver absolutely fantastic supporting roles, stealing the show with every scene they were in and taking their usually standard character arcs of ‘third wheel friend’ or ‘crazy teacher’ and raising them to level that gives them a ton of heart mixed with gut busting humor.
Bottoms is the movie equivalent of being shot out of a cannon, and once you are done with it, and recover from the shocking amount of ambition put on the screen, you can’t wait to see it again. It’s an unapologetic queer sex comedy masterpiece that will be examined and copied for years to come. But nothing will come close to Bottoms’ pure imagination and fortitude to create something so bold that it reinvents everything we’ve seen before and now there is no turning back.
This review is from the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. MGM/UAR/Orion will release Bottoms in the U.S.