Review: ‘Bottoms’ packs a hilarious, feminist punch 

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Contributed photo from MGM.

While 2023 may be seen as the year of action blockbusters consistently failing to gain interest from audiences and critics, another trend is just as prevalent: the success of female-driven comedies. “Barbie” seems to be the headliner of this movement, becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of the year and a pop culture phenomenon. There are also the smaller achievements of “No Hard Feelings,” “Joy Ride,” and “Cocaine Bear,” and with “Bottoms,” the latest teen comedy from writer-director Emma Seligman, I can safely say that it’s a highlight. 

Garnering acclaim and anticipation since its premiere at the SXSW festival back in March, it’s not hard to see why “Bottoms” drummed up so much interest. The film follows two “ugly, untalented gays,” PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), who create a women’s fight club in a ploy to have sex with cheerleaders Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu). As the club becomes more popular in the school, the football team tries to take them down when they start taking attention away from them.  

Taking advantage of how silly that premise is, Seligman effortlessly transitions from the tight, anxiety-ridden comedy of “Shiva Baby” and dives into pure queer camp. Instead of taking place in your average, everyday high school, “Bottoms’” Rockbridge Falls High presents an absurdist, exaggerated take on teenage life. Classes last five minutes, students and staff worship their hyper-masculine football team like a religion and everyone is unhinged, including our two main characters. Think of it as a beautiful marriage between the teen melodrama and hypersexuality of “Euphoria” mixed with the tongue-in-cheek satire of Taylor Swift’s “The Man.”

Using its R rating to the fullest, the movie is also not afraid to be violent. As expected from the idea of a high school fight club, it offers a lot of blood, bruises, broken noses and more. Although the group of teenagers doesn’t become consumed by toxic gender standards and turn into an anti-capitalist terrorist cult like in Fight Club, there are some allusions to the latter, including David Fincher name-drops, bombings and even a body count.

However, the violence never gets disturbing, as Seligman, the cast and the crew do a great job at making it hilarious, creating a world where this brutality isn’t that big of a deal but still jarring to see it done so excessively by teenagers. 

Visually, Maria Rusche’s cinematography makes great use of wide angles, wide shots and framing to add to characters’ reactions and even create some background gags. It also works in making the film feel grand, having several dolly shots that express the emotion or bravura of the scene. 

Contributed photo from MGM.

Ebediri and Sennott give fantastic performances as Josie and PJ, having great comedic timing and chemistry as best friends who bond over their unpopularity and horniness. They work well off each other, with Josie being the “straight man” and PJ having an abrasive and oblivious nature that gets them both into several hijinks. PJ trying to flirt with Brittany by saying Brittany doesn’t need to throw up while Josie awkwardly watches is one of the funniest examples of why their dynamic works so much. 

It’s not just PJ and Josie that get to be comedic, with the side characters tending to steal the show from the main duo. Havana Rose Liu creates a presence in Isabel, being more relevant in the story compared to Brittany, who’s just the love interest, but both have good moments. Former football player Marshawn Lynch plays Mr. G, a teacher who becomes the fight club’s “advisor,” with a few standout moments of his own. Nicholas Galitzine as the star quarterback Jeff, who is also Isabel’s boyfriend, plays his role as goofily as possible, having fun playing an intentionally stereotypical depiction of over-the-top masculine idiocy. 

Despite how fresh and funny it is, the film is sometimes too predictable. Due to the whole reason PJ and Josie started a self-defense club was to get laid instead of female empowerment, the story sets up a “liar revealed” arc for the two heroines. You know the movie will lead to them being found out, diluting the fun originality this premise had since it depends so much on this storyline.

The one saving grace to the predictable structure is that you are engaged with these characters enough to wait out the third-act breakup, along with the jokes staying consistently funny. When the club members find out about the two’s intentions, one of them says, “This is the second wave all over again,” which is easily as quotable as anything from “Barbie.” 

Contributed photo from MGM.

The direction taken in the third act felt out of nowhere since the movie focused more on the football club rivalry and romance than on building up this subplot. But at the same time, it can be argued that this plotline is a joke in itself, like the randomness and how crazy it gets are not supposed to be taken seriously. The movie already has actors in their late 20s playing high schoolers who act like the people in “Beau is Afraid,” so I can take the suspension of disbelief. Even then it’s still a good climax, with a lot of carnage and great fight choreography. 

That doesn’t hinder “Bottoms” too much, since it proves itself to be an incredibly funny, queer satire about gender norms and a feminist story about being yourself, bruises and all. 

Through its humor, acting, and passionate filmmaking, “Bottoms” is one of the best teen movies since “Booksmart,” and a notable addition to the rise of female-led comedies. All that acclaim aside, it will certainly have you laughing at every punchline.

“Bottoms” is rated R for crude sexual content, pervasive language and some language.

This writer supports the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike.

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Ethan Tarantella
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