Bottoms is Violently Funny and is One of the Cleverest Comedies of the Year

From its throwback poster parodying and/or paying homage to Revenge of the Nerds (1984) to its literal no holds barred crass comedy, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott’s Bottoms is both a throwback and absolutely of the moment. Our nerds are the “gay, untalented, and ugly” PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) who realise their high school doesn’t so much have a gay problem (it does) as much as it has a them problem. They are in their senior year and thus far have managed to be always at the loser’s table. From a distance they crush on cheerleaders Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) Determined to lose their virginity – to at least not be the only virgins at Sarah Lawrence they realise their impossible awkwardness is not going to win them any popularity contest, or even put them on the radar of the in-crowd which is entirely made up of footballers and their entourages.

After an argument between Isabel and football captain Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine) about his serial infidelity leads Josie to accidentally hitting Jeff in the dick with her car PJ and Josie finally get some attention. The attention is essentially them being threatened by Jeff and his acolyte Tim (Miles Fowler) and coming into the notice of Isabel. There is a violence problem in the town with the upcoming football game with the Huntington Vikings. They’re randomly attacking women. In Principal Meyer’s (Wayne Péré) PJ and Josie hit on the idea that they start a self-defence club for the girls at the school. Meyer who is way past caring about anything (especially women) but school glory on the football field tells them, “You can beat the shit out of each other while reciting the vagina monologues.”

Girl “Fight Club” it is. Attracting the weird and equally disposed Hazel Callahan (Ruby Cruz) who takes female solidarity very seriously, and the bonkers Sylvie (Summer Joy Campbell) along with Annie (Zamani Wilder) a Black Republican their club starts to grow as teenage model/actress Stella-Rebecca (Virginia Tucker) joins and eventually Isabel and Brittany. The truth is that neither PJ nor Josie have any idea how to fight, and PJ in particular doesn’t care one bit for the empowerment of women (“You don’t care about feminism. Your favourite show is Entourage,” says Josie). Eventually their club is endorsed by the uninterested Mr G. (real life ex-footballer Marshawn Lynch) who is encouraged by them to “Be a club advisor but don’t turn up. The best way to be an ally is to do nothing.”

An elaborate web of lies is built where Josie pretends she and PJ were in juvie and that’s where they learned to throw a punch. The club builds and builds until “feminism” is rivalling the godlike football players for attention – Seligman styles them as Jesus and the last supper in the school cafeteria.

Jeff is uniquely stupid and filled with the narcissism that comes from being physically genetically blessed. He expects that Isabel will put up with almost anything (including sleeping with her sister) and Isabel has been taught she should put up with it too. When Hazel reveals that Jeff is sleeping with her mother (Dagmara Dominczyk) Josie passes on the information. The girls decide it’s time for revenge and what starts out as an egg and toilet papering of Jeff’s house (to which he’s totally oblivious as he’s listening to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ on his headphones) turns into an explosion of his car. The whole thing is incredibly hot for Isabel who finds “Value when people raise their voices and use violence. It’s actually one of my love languages.”

Meanwhile PJ is trying to seduce Brittany – a budding jewellery entrepreneur. A study session set by Mr. G on feminist icons (“Who is like bell hooks and why do we care?”) leads to an awkward kiss which Brittany rejects. She’s straight and as cool as she thinks PJ is, nothing will change that.

Being with Josie is something absolutely new for Isabel. She’s never seen someone have so much freedom to just be. The attraction they feel for each other is palpable and they act on it. Surprisingly, Josie is the one who seems to get the girl which leads PJ into a total meltdown. She says something completely unforgivable to Hazel who has always had their back and the club is in jeopardy because Tim has been carefully looking into what has been going on. Nothing, but nothing, will displace the football team as the top dogs of the school.

Bottoms is violently funny, and just plain violent. The satire of American high school life is remarkably clever. It plays with the male-gaze and turns it into the horny gaze of lesbians while still acknowledging it’s all about hot people wearing not much doing car washes for fundraising. Brittany throws one liners about Isabel such as, “My identity is completely attached to hers, so I go wherever she does.” Mr G. writes on the blackboard “Feminism: Who started it? A) Gloria Steinem B) A man C) Another woman.” In the background there are posters encouraging the girls to smile more because they’ll be prettier.

Emma Seligman acknowledges the undercurrent of female rage. The grey areas that most women have dealt with in terms of consent. The male ego that requires women to be evil, victims, doormats, sluts, or accessories. She also turns so much of these things on their head when it comes down to the fact that PJ started the club just so she could fuck hot cheerleaders. Josie and PJ go back to being pariahs and lose not only their popularity, their once steadfast friends, but each other. Female solidarity is not simple and no woman, queer, of colour, straight, or otherwise is part of a monolithic movement.

Emma Seligman plays Bottoms to the cheap seats and to the canny viewer. It’s incredibly over the top and bravura. Rachel Sennott who starred in Seligman’s panic attack of a film Shiva Baby is not afraid to be deeply unlikeable. She’s also hilarious and where it counts a decent friend. Ayo Edebiri continues to be one of the funniest people on screen. A lot of the best lines come from Marshawn Lynch as Mr. G who improvised much of his dialogue (as too Sennott and Edebiri). A small but wonderful cameo by Punkie Johnson as Rhodie, the elder dyke who explains the world to Josie is worth its weight in gold. Ruby Cruz quietly steals so many scenes as Hazel.

Bottoms revels in its audacity. It is absolutely ridiculous and brutal. There are few targets Seligman and Sennott aren’t aiming at, but the film is also about finding out who you are even if there is some metaphorical and literal collateral damage along the way. That’s what being a teenager is. As outré as Bottoms is it has a heart of gold to go along with the broken noses, gouged and blackened eyes. Bottoms is one of the best and cleverest comedies of 2023 and demands its own cheer squad and victory lap.

Director: Emma Seligman

Cast: Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Ruby Cruz

Writers: Emma Seligman, Rachel Sennott

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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