By Schwa Yeleti
Pining for someone unattainable in high school is a near-universal experience. Bottoms is a movie about what happens when two friends start a fight club to do something about it.
Emma Seligman’s sophomore film, Bottoms, plays on the almost hackneyed premise of “One final hurrah before college!”, but her take on it breathes new life into the genre. Drawing inspiration from previous high school sex comedies (American Pie, Superbad, Booksmart), she offers both a charming return to tradition and a deviation from the stereotypical narrative. With its raunchy, bloody comedy, snappy line deliveries, and tight screenplay, Bottoms is already making waves, with the highest per-theater average since Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Lesbian losers PJ (co-writer Rachel Sennott) and Hazel (Ayo Edebiri) are social outcasts in their senior year of high school. In their own words, they are shunned for being ugly, untalented, and gay. After a series of mishaps involving a hilariously melodramatic football player (Nick Galitzine), they end up starting a fight club to “empower” women (and, hopefully, sleep with cheerleaders.)
Despite PJ’s indifference to the nominal goal of empowerment and the extraordinarily convincing lies that Hazel tells, the fight club does become a supportive environment for girls of all social ranks at their high school. It is here that the movie veers into a sincerity that serves as the emotional underpinning for the film. Regardless of the deception from the club’s cofounders about their intentions, there is real female friendship formed between the girls throwing inexperienced punches at each other.
The candor is only in an emotional sense, however: even if the film initially seems to be in the vein of a semi-realistic high school movie, it takes the occasional odd but perfect digression from that. For instance, there are scenes of almost-grotesque violence that are quickly swept over in the name of comedy, but it only adds to the tongue-in-cheek absurdity that permeates the film.
And although the fight scenes might be the work of talented stunt actors, the actors don’t pull punches in the rest of the movie. Both leads are budding stars who have made their impact on Hollywood, and we will undoubtedly hear about them again. Sennott cut her teeth gigging in New York City’s alternative comedy scene and posting jokes on Twitter, but since then, she has deleted her Twitter account and successfully made the leap to feature films, including Seligman’s debut film Shiva Baby, where she appears as a Jewish college student who runs into her sugar daddy while at a funeral service with her parents. Edebiri, on the other hand, has left her fingerprints all over Hollywood in 2023. This year alone, she starred in the second season of FX’s The Bear, Theater Camp, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, as well as smaller roles in ABC’s Abbott Elementary and Spider Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
Every supporting actor delivers too. Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, and Ruby Cruz all deliver on their characters, adding emotional depth and complexity to characters that could have easily been dull stereotypes. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Marshawn Lynch, the former Seattle Seahawks football running back who plays the role of the fight club’s advisor. Reportedly, Lynch improvised a majority of his lines, which seems ironic in light of his reputation as someone who disliked media appearances during his time in the NFL. Yet, the theater audience that I watched with was cracking up seemingly every second Lynch is on screen, and I only realized the extent of his improvisation once the end-credit blooper reel started playing.
The blooper reel truly signals Seligman’s endeavor to return to the tropes of Y2K comedies, while also modernizing such films for a 2023 audience. There’s certainly a sense of nostalgia embedded in the occasionally over-the-top humor, but this movie — which is by and about lesbians — is stunningly modern. Bottoms is a refreshing portrayal of awkward teenage queerness, complete with self-aware humor and comedic performances that will stand the test of time.
Bottoms is airing now in theaters nationwide.