When your film combines the talents of Shiva Baby writer/director Emma Seligman and her brilliant star Rachel Sennott, plus The Bear breakout Ayo Edibiri, the expectations are going to be through the roof. With the raunchy gay high school comedy Bottoms, the roof gets blown off completely! Weird, surreal, and unabashedly horny, this is one of those films that you instantly know is going to be a cult favorite playing in theaters for years to come.
Why do I make that claim? Because Bottoms draws the right kind of inspiration from some of the best teen sex comedies ever. You can spot the influence from the likes of Booksmart, Heathers, Superbad, and the most obvious film that is definitely not for high schoolers, Fight Club. But that David Fincher classic, which saw dudes engage in underground brawls to validate their machismo, is merely a springboard into a delightfully retro plot centered on…getting laid. Yes, please.
Sennott and Edibiri play best friends PJ and Josie, and they are pretty much hated at school for being weirdo misfits. They’re also lesbians, but that’s not why students hate them. Gays are treated just fine there, actually. The talented and hot ones, anyway. But PJ and Josie? Not so much. They’re awkward and wear overalls and can’t really do anything well other than embarrass themselves. But this is senior year and all of that is going to change. They’re going to get laid if it kills them, and their sights are set on uber-hot cheerleaders Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), who wouldn’t give them the time of day typically.
A simple white lie about how the girls spent their summer vacation blows up out of their control, and the only way to get out of it is to start an afterschool self-defense club for girls. Er, hot girls. Girls that PJ and Josie want to bang. But this isn’t about learning defensive manuevers at all, it’s a brutal all-out fight club where the ladies bond over broken noses, shattered teeth, and more bruises than any amount of makeup can cover up.
Bottoms could’ve played all of this somewhat straight but the thing that makes it stand apart for me is that it’s barely part of our reality. In a way, it reminded me of the heightened politically correct culture of PCU, except here everything is elevated to comical levels. Sex drives, misogyny, homophobia, violence, even the football team mascot walks around with a massive erection. The football team, a bunch of douchey jocks led by beloved quarterback Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), who happens to be Isabel’s cheating boyfriend, are a bunch of histrionic poseurs wimpering at the slightest touch. The only thing that matters is school spirit and there’s plenty of it. Do yourself a favor and keep an eye on the school posters boasting of Jeff’s extraordinary prowess.Teachers? Who needs them? Things get blown up with shocking regularlity and it all just feels normal. The world of Bottoms isn’t like any other high school movie out there.
Co-written by Seligman and Sennott, Bottoms is unafraid to venture into some murky territory. Violence against women isn’t something any audience member wants to laugh at, and yet we are encouraged to at nearly every turn. Uncomfortable sexual situations are also the stuff of laughs, like when PJ encourages the other girls in the fight club to share their rape stories, not as a means of getting closer but to earn sympathy points. You’ll laugh and feel dirty for doing it.
Having previously forged an incredible chemistry with their Comedy Central series Ayo and Rachel Are Single, Edibiri and Sennott make for a formidable comedic duo. Edibiri’s Josie couldn’t be more different from the cool, confident character she plays on The Bear. Josie is a bundle of shyness and vulnerability, her sloppy afro like a means of distracting anyone from speaking to her directly. It’s sweet to see her tip-toe into a potential relationship, and to see how her confidence emerges when her friends are threatened. She’s the more likeable of the two, by far.
Sennott’s PJ is a bit rough around the edges, perhaps too much. We get it, she’s extremely horny and desperate, but she is also cruel and uncaring about the people around her, whether she wants to screw them or not. We see this play out in a subplot involving their friend, Hazel (Ruby Cruz), the classic utility friend who does all of the things and goes unappreciated for it. Because Sennott is so funny at playing blunt and blissfully unaware we are expected to overlook that PJ is pretty awful, and her arc doesn’t come close to hitting the emotional payoff of Josie’s.
Conventional storybeats intrude in the final act, but to the film’s credit none of them play out quite as you expect. In particular, the big football game between a literally murderous rival team turns into something out of Braveheart and it’s gloriously violent and awesome. Bottoms pulls no punches as it both embraces the genre and blows it up. They might not want us to talk about Fight Club, but you’ll want to talk about Bottoms.
Bottoms opens in theaters on August 25th.