Directed by Emma Seligman.
Starring Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Miles Fowler, Ruby Cruz, Marshawn Lynch, Zamani Wilder, Virginia Tucker, Summer Joy Campbell, Dagmara Domińczyk, Punkie Johnson, Krystal Alayne Chambers, Alyssa Matthews, Wayne Pére, Toby Nichols, Liz Elkins Newcomer, Ted Ferguson, Bruno Rose, and Cameron Stout.
Two unpopular queer high school students start a fight club to have sex before graduation.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, Bottoms wouldn’t exist.
Bottoms is tonal anarchy executed to wild satisfaction. Co-written and directed by Emma Seligman, once again working with star Rachel Sennott (also serving as a screenwriting collaborator), the teen comedy is lively and electric, seemingly existing in a Looney Tunes world of violence where anything and everything can physically happen. This is a stark departure from her debut film Shiva Baby, a more grounded, hilarious experience tapping into the hilarity and anxiety of a woman face-to-face with her sugar daddy attending the same shiva, also discovering that he is cheating on his wife and who has a baby.
That’s not to say that the plot of Bottoms is far-fetched. It follows unpopular queer high schoolers PJ (Rachel Sennott, perfectly playing the mean girl type, once again equipped with masterful comedic line delivery timing)) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri, adorably dorky, wearing that personality through her appearance, such as with an Atari shirt) running with a rumor painting them as having spent a stint in juvie, to start an organized afterschool fight club disguised as a self-defense feminist empowerment class, in reality looking to use the natural physical aspect of such training and courses to arouse themselves touching the so-called hot girls, potentially even getting romantically close to their crushes.
Perhaps that’s not the most flattering portrayal of the community, but they also deserve to have flawed characters manipulating allyship for personal gain. Mr. G (an outrageously funny turn from former NFL Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch) signs on as the advisor for the club, a depressed divorcee teacher tipping back and forth on what he thinks of women.
While PJ is more selfish and ruthless when it comes to accomplishing her lustful goals, Josie is more morally aware of the wrongdoings at play, genuinely sweet when getting to know her cheerleading crush Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), who might be open-minded to dating and intimacy with the opposite sex considering her star football quarterback boyfriend Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine) can’t help cheating on her. Meanwhile, PJ craves the attention of Brittany (Kaia Gerber), a cheerleader who would rather be appreciated for her smartness and ambition to manage a beauty store. Their friend Hazel (a likable Ruby Cruz, making a strong impression) assists in setting up the meetings, also warning PJ and Josie of the impending disaster that could come from their deception.
However, none of this is played straight (no pun intended), leaning into the absurd at any possible moment. PJ and Josie attract an amusing gallery of misfits into their class (ranging from a rage-fueled girl annoyed at her stepfather insisting on movie bonding nights, an intelligent Black Christian girl, to others curious about how to defend themselves from the everyday terrors surrounding life as a woman), also generating the interests of their respective crushes. The fight club practice is often comically physical and brutal (characters shoving one another down hard to the gymnasium floor, broken noses, and more), and infectiously entertaining, but also more of a gateway into this crazy story.
It should be no surprise that a tight sisterhood forms between the group, with the egomaniacal and hurtful behavior from Jeff and his sycophantic bro teammates rising; Nicholas Galitzine is also terrific in the role, exactly aware of how to balance the detestable nature of the character with silliness. He is a misogynistic idiot who is fun to root against, and these girls certainly have some over-the-top ways of going about their revenge (it’s sure to take some viewers out of the film, but this heightened version of reality where anything goes also makes for unpredictably ludicrous humor benefiting from the script’s creativity.)
There shouldn’t be any surprise that Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott are playing around with themes of gender dynamics, feminism, and false allies, but their takedown of rowdy sports culture also generates laughs, with Jeff and his schoolmates/teammates preparing for a rare rivalry game that typically results in at least one death of another player. The climax of Bottoms doesn’t make much sense in terms of what the girls are attempting to accomplish by getting on the field, but again, it is so refreshingly absurd that it’s easy to take it and run with it. It’s also fair to say that, at barely 85 minutes without credits, everything does move a bit too fast and might have benefited from one or two more sincere character development moments. Despite the chaos, some friendships (long-time and new) are worth exploring more alongside ensuring rapid-fire jokes and violent shenanigans.
Still, the fact that Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott were bold and confident enough to tackle a different style of comedy, mostly succeeding, builds excitement for whatever they do after Bottoms. These two are incredibly gifted and talented, excelling at bouncing ideas off one another. Not every swing here works or pays off, but they are rising to the top of must-watch filmmaking duos. Bottoms is hilarious, gruesome, oddly moving, and always unabashedly insane, anchored by a committed ensemble trusting of this supremely bonkers script.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com