By Aliena Abernathy
Photo: Still from Bottoms, dir. Emma Seligman Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Bottoms, which had a wide release on September 1st of this year, is Emma Seligman’s and Rachel Sennot’s (Bodies Bodies Bodies) second comedy collaboration since their debut film, Shiva Baby, which cemented the duo as a writing, acting, and directing force in early 2020. Bottoms further develops the pair’s comedic and satirical talents as they bring a genre rooted in the early 2000s into a new era: the high school comedy. Absurdly funny, fiercely queer, and queerly absurd, it’s a movie that will entertain tops and bottoms alike.
The film co-stars Sennot in the role of PJ, and Ayo Edebiri (The Bear, Theater Camp, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse) in the role of Josie. They play two hopelessly queer high schoolers who start a fight club under the guise of a women’s self-defense club, with the ulterior motive of using the club to lose their virginities to their respective cheerleader crushes. It’s a twist on the sleazy teen comedy of years past, addressing the tropes of hypersexuality and senior high cliques with surreal humor and gags far too inappropriate for its setting. Though over-the-top by design, Seligman creates an unbreakable consistency in her presentation, so that by the time the film introduces more out-there situations like terrorist bombings and actual murder, the viewer is eased into the world enough to straddle the line between shocking and innocuous.
Edebiri is an unexpected and welcome presence on screen as she cements her status as an incredible comedic force by the end of the runtime. Her mumbling-bottom to womanizing-bottom arc creates a sense of relatability in a world which otherwise makes no attempts at being grounded in logic, and she takes the role of the straight man and makes it anything but. Other notable performances came from Marshawn Lynch as the oversharing and uneducated teacher Mr. G, Ruby Cruz as the dejected but undying supporter Hazel, and Summer Joy Campbell, who plays Joyce, who likes to yell. Loudly. All these actors and more contribute to an ensemble cast which has a life of its own outside of the antics of the protagonists. Each member has such a strong and defined presence on screen that you’ll remember even the most insignificant of them for their one-liners, which hit you out of nowhere every time.
Photo: Theatrical Release Poster from Bottoms, dir. Emma Seligman Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
It’s unfortunate, however, that Edebiri is the only character attempting to ground herself in a sense of reality. As many of the characters don’t take themselves seriously, it’s hard for an audience to take their problems seriously. This culminates in a third-act low point where the main antagonist of the film, Jeff, played by a fruity Nicholas Galitzine (Red, White, & Royal Blue), makes a big reveal in an attempt to defame PJ and Josie. The ensemble takes Jeff’s word at face value despite him having lied to them not two minutes earlier, which caused their five-foot friend Hazel to get pummeled by a six-foot-three professional boxer in an otherwise hilarious fight scene. Its plot holes such as this, and the occasional out-of-character moment, which momentarily break the façade that allows the audience to suspend their disbelief enough for the film’s comedy to work.
That being said, having a rock-solid script is not the focus of anyone who worked on the film, nor is it integral to one’s enjoyment of the material. As a matter of fact, though the technical aspects of the film are all-around unremarkable, it may be because of this that Seligman succeeds so well at creating an effective comedy. It’s a constant crescendo of situational comedy that always culminates in only the most absurd and unexpected ways. It’s as though the actors were encouraged to continuously one-up each other in increasing the already high level of mania present throughout. Admittedly basic high school sets, tropes, and situations are created for which the comedic qualities of each individual actor flourish to their fullest extent.
Rooted in the unapologetic queerness of its concept, with so many unpredictable and side-splittingly funny lines and set gags all wrapped up with a small dash of social commentary as the icing on the cake, Bottoms is undoubtedly on track to becoming its own high school cult comedy classic.