It’s a tale as old as time—two losers want to get laid before graduating high school. But in director Emma Seligman’s sophomore feature Bottoms, their aspirations descend into bloody absurdity.
Two “untalented gays,” PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), form a fight club as a way to “empower girls” amid an epidemic of violence against women. But really, the duo just want to hook up with the unapproachable cheerleaders they have massive crushes on.
Director: Emma Seligman
The sophomore feature from ‘Shiva Baby’ director Emma Seligman revels in slapstick melodrama.
Josie pines after the girlfriend of a himbo jock, Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), while PJ obsesses over the bowel movements of popular Brittany (Kaia Gerber). As they fling themselves into a series of lies that pins the duo as blood-thirsty juvie alumni, the plan begins to work in their favor, creating a self-defense club that serves as an outlet for their own horniness. But Josie and PJ’s fibs soon catch up to them as footballer Tim (Miles Fowler, in a standout performance) grows suspicious of their club, forging a rift between them and the community they inadvertently created.
Co-writers Seligman and Sennott have been toiling over the script since the creation of prior SXSW premiere Shiva Baby (the short) and before the creation of Shiva Baby (the feature). Diverting away from the anxiety-induced dramedy of the director’s first full-length, Bottoms goes full sex comedy, satirizing the genre with a maddening joke-per-minute ratio.
And with Edebiri, breakout star in Hulu’s The Bear and recent addition to NBC’s Abbott Elementary, in the mix, the film offers a holy trifecta of collaborators.
Having written the character of Josie with Edebiri in mind, her oft-quivering, under-the-breath performance melds seamlessly with Sennott’s more bold and brash PJ. Though a familiar duo of hesitant everyman and obnoxious leader (see: Superbad’s Evan and Seth), these two blur the lines of the common trope. Reuniting the two after their masterful Comedy Central web series on navigating the modern dating scene, “Ayo and Rachel are Single,” Bottoms delivers a full-length feast of the pair’s natural chemistry.
As a result, the film commits to the bit, almost to a fault. Pure theatrics slightly weigh on its few attempts at emotional beats, leaving little room to breathe between cackles. Still, the talent of Sennott and Edebiri shine through where, for a moment, PJ and Josie feel real and their friendship truly at risk. But following the seriously unserious tune of the entire project, this beat is soon cut with Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” and a cliche montage, satirizing the teen comedy genre itself.
Still, a teen film that locks into the heart-wrenching nature of girlhood isn’t what Seligman and Sennott set out to make. Rather, they deliver a queer film that doesn’t deal with coming out or the trauma of homophobia but laughs in the face of reality. In doing so, they present relatable girl failures that find real strength in their situation—even if their means of power is a campy murder spree.
As such, Bottoms third act barrels out into a bloody football field beat-down, scored by Charli XCX and set in slo-mo. Like the greats that came before it (ahem, Heathers), gory melodrama is the ideal way to portray the high school experience. Everything feels like life or death when you’re 17 anyway.