By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
High school comedies hold a special place in the hearts of many. The likes of Mean Girls, American Pie, and Superbad had indescribable impacts on entire generations, who continue to joyfully quote and reference the films years after their release. It’s a sizable task, therefore, to rank among or anywhere near the likes of these films, but Bottoms certainly has a chance to do so.
Bottoms is a queer teen sex comedy directed and co-written by Emma Seligman, who previously helmed the clever and insightful Shiva Baby. Bottoms follows high school best friends PJ (played by Bodies Bodies Bodies’ Rachel Sennott) and Josie (played by The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri), who are desperately in love with two of their school’s most popular girls. In an effort to hook up with their crushes, PJ and Josie start a female self-defense club, which is more like a genuine fight club, with the help of their teacher Mr. G (played by NFL superstar Marshawn Lynch).
It’s a delicate balance to simultaneously honor and parody something, but Seligman’s film excels in both areas. Bottoms is, in many ways, an archetypal high school comedy. It checks every box and fulfills every trope that high school comedy and teen sex comedy subgenres do. There’s the annoying high school football team, teens desperate for the admiration of their crushes, purposefully cringe-worthy humor poking fun at what it’s like to be a high school student, and a big school-wide conclusion to top it all off. In this sense, Bottoms treads known territory, at least on the surface. But Bottoms is far from conventional.
While serving as an endearing love letter to high school comedies like Mean Girls and Superbad, Bottoms also satires with incredible success. In creatively lampooning tropes of high school movies, Seligman deconstructs and subsequently reconstructs the genre they are clearly such an admirer of. It’s not just a satire of the films it is inspired by; it’s also a satire of the difficult topics it addresses like violence, empowerment, and victimization, making Bottoms unlike any high school movie to date.
This multifaceted satire is achieved with the progressively outrageous tone of Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott’s kinetic script. While initially establishing itself as a grounded, yet heightened, take on high school, Bottoms increasingly goes into bonkers territory, culminating in an epic finale that needs to be seen to be believed. This makes for all sorts of big laughs, but, at times, it all becomes a little too over-the-top. In doing so, what is often a relatable high school comedy becomes more unapproachable and off-putting. Bottoms is funny, especially with some of its bigger and more heightened moments, although its tonal imbalance may mean some audiences lose interest along the way.
Outside of its larger-than-life moments, Bottoms sees mixed success with its humor. The film is filled with effective physical gags and clever one-liners and yet many of the jokes fall flat. This actually works somewhat in the context of a comedy poking fun at how cringeworthy high school can be, but it also means that Bottoms isn’t the sort of laugh-a-minute comedy the likes of Superbad or Booksmart are.
Where Bottoms finds greater success is the way in which it normalizes being queer. Queerness is intrinsic to the plot, its characters, its themes, and much of the humor. And yet, queerness is never treated like “the other.” PJ and Josie are introduced right off the bat as lesbian best friends as Seligman adopts an approach to their characters’ sexual orientations that acknowledges the identity-based marginalization they face while being unafraid to poke fun and subliminally making queerness feel normal. This is something Seligman managed in her previous effort Shiva Baby, which deftly explored the intersection of Jewish and bisexual identities. Coupling this representation with a propulsive directing style and it’s clear that Seligman is a writer/director to look out for.
Also impressive are the two leads of Bottoms – Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri. Sennott, who starred in one of our favorite movies of the year so far I Used To Be Funny, is hilarious and commands the screen similar to her role in Bodies Bodies Bodies. Edebiri, meanwhile, leans into her comedic sensibilities far more here compared to her role in the acclaimed FX series The Bear. Edebiri is the emotional heart of the film, nailing her dramatic beats and giving the film a real hero to support. Sennott and Edebiri, who have starred in various comedy sketches together in the past, prove that they will be major forces in movies and television for years to come. And, on a side note, former NFL player Marshawn Lynch is a scene-stealer and is behind some of the film’s best one-liners.
Bottoms is the kind of subversive high school comedy that will represent a group of people and be championed and quoted for years down the line. A high school comedy that both honors and satires the tropes of the genre, Emma Seligman’s sophomore effort succeeds with some big laughs and a poignant exploration of important themes. Tonally, the film’s outrageousness and sheer insanity may be too over-the-top for some audiences, especially as the runtime progresses and the proceedings become increasingly unhinged. Nonetheless, Bottoms will rank among Superbad and Mean Girls as the best of the high school comedy genre.