by Jake Hyslop
If I had a nickel for every new movie in 2023 that was an eccentric, campy satire about feminism and gender roles, mocking the blatantly evil patriarchy and boasting a giant choreographed fight scene, I would have two nickels – which, to quote Dr. Doofenshmirtz, isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice.
Bottoms is the sophomore feature from writer-director Emma Seligman, reuniting with star (and writer) Rachel Sennott (“Bodies Bodies Bodies”) from their previous collaboration, the stressful and hilarious Shiva Baby. Opposite Sennott is Ayo Edibiri, perhaps best known for her voicework in Big Mouth and her performance as Sydney in the hit Hulu show The Bear (watch it if you haven’t).
Sennott and Edibiri star as PJ and Josie respectively, two teens at the bottom of their high school’s social ladder. Not only are they losers and gay, but they attend a high school that literally worships its straight himbo star-athlete (there is a giant mural depicting him as the biblical Adam in the cafeteria). Even the principal calls them the “ugly, untalented gays” over the intercom. Through a series of plot contrivances, the two unpopular teens start an all-female fight club in order to have sex before they graduate.
If the above doesn’t alert you to the surrealness of the world of Bottoms, allow me to inform you that Jeff (the aforementioned himbo) and his teammates are depicted sitting in the cafeteria like Jesus and his apostles in Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. It’s a comical sight to say the least. Oh, and murder is just shrugged off as a normal occurrence.
The teen sex comedy isn’t exactly a new genre, but to have a brief resurgence put a queer spin on the genre keeps it fresh and subversive. It brings the tone of movies like Wet Hot American Summer and Superbad to the Gen Z crowd, borrowing the campy tone of “But I’m a Cheerleader,” a queer cult classic in its own right (it even paid homage in a scene at a diner named “But I’m A Diner”). Bottoms is unapologetically and explicitly gay at nearly all times. We’ve come a long way from the woeful and tokenistic “gay best friend” trope in comedies.
I was particularly delighted at the film’s parallels and references to Fight Club, a film famous for its satirical portrayal of toxic masculinity. It’s unfortunate that many men read the film’s message completely wrong, idolizing the dangerous men at the center of the narrative. How refreshing that this movie completely upends and pokes fun at those notions. The football players here are utterly moronic, and actors Nicholas Galitzine and Miles Fowler channel their Ken-ergy into their diva performances.
Despite a plot that can be convoluted and predictable at times, the cast and writing carry this movie to victory. Sennott and Edebiri’s palpable chemistry provides the groundwork for some truly impressive improv sequences, interwoven so well with the hilarious script that it’s hard to tell what is improv and what is written. Marshawn Lynch nearly steals the film as the divorced teacher who sponsors their club, misguided in his attempts to embrace feminism (fair weather allies are the worst). In fact, the entire ensemble here puts in the work, and I found my chest hurting from all the funny bits, as there’s hardly a minute that goes by without one. To address the Margot Robbie-sized elephant in the room: yes, there are a lot of similarities to Barbie, the hit blockbuster of the year. I liked Barbie a lot, but my biggest issue was just how commercial it was, and how I wished every minute of its runtime was as campy as Barbieland; Bottoms scratched that itch for me. It’s acerbic and surreal the entire time, but it’s also surprisingly dark and bloody. Bottoms never compromises its weirdness for even a second to please anyone. It’s brash and unapologetic, and also the funniest movie I’ve seen all year.