Queer film ‘Bottoms’ pulls no punches

This new, hotly anticipated sophomore collaboration flies its freak flag sky-high.


Protagonists PJ and Josie, played by Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri, represent the rock bottom of their high school’s social hierarchy. Their lies lead them to the hilarious creation of their women’s fight club. (Patti Perret)

From front to back, “Bottoms” is a dizzying knockout and further proof that Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott are a winning combination. Seligman and Sennott proved themselves to be a formidable filmmaking duo in 2020 with their indie success story, “Shiva Baby,” which showcased their penchant for comically exploring the relationship between burgeoning female sexuality and agency.

“Bottoms,” the duo’s new multimillion dollar queer teen sex comedy, comes with far goofier packaging, but like “Shiva Baby,” it manages to meticulously balance the unhinged absurdity of its premise alongside the earnest pitfalls of young queer love and self-flagellation with equal aplomb. It’s precisely because Seligman and Sennott come from a place of being young women — not having it all figured out — that the characters of “Bottoms” feel lived in, as opposed to hollow teen archetypes.

“Bottoms” was directed by Seligman and co-written by Seligman and Sennott (“Bodies Bodies Bodies” (2022), “The Idol”), who stars as the boisterous yet insecure PJ. Ayo Edebiri (“The Bear,” “Abbott Elementary”) co-stars as Josie, PJ’s timid and scathingly funny best friend.

The two girls, who have long been ostracized and stuck at the bottom of their high school’s social order, end up caught in a series of incredibly amusing lies that lead them to start a women’s fight club to get closer to their popular love interests, Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu). Things then spiral out of control as gleefully creative insults are hurled, fragile egos are shattered and buckets of blood are shed.

The ensemble features a wealth of rising young stars, including Ruby Cruz as an encouragingly off-kilter partner-in-crime to PJ and Josie, and Nicholas Galitzine and Miles Fowler, who make for a deliciously halfwitted pair of football jocks. The chemistry between members of the ensemble is practically everything here — everybody is firing on all comedic cylinders, but it is particularly Sennott and Edebiri who excel as some of the most memorable teen buddies ever put to screen.

It would be careless to omit how much of a scene-stealer former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is as the club’s faculty advisor Mr. G, whose first turn as a screen actor is a fantastic testament to the power of cheeky stunt casting and infusing a role with one’s real-life persona.

Sennott and Edebiri, both 27-year-olds, came up in the New York standup scene together, having met while attending NYU. They ended up starring together in the all-too-brief Comedy Central series “Ayo and Rachel Are Single” in 2020, which likely served them well as a small-scale dress rehearsal for this film.

“Bottoms” recalls several films, namely 2019’s “Booksmart,” for its distinctly lesbian take on the classic high school buddy comedy. However, “Bottoms” pushes that subgenre into surrealist, absurdist and bloody territory that Seligman and Sennott’s peers have been too afraid to venture into before.

Queer representation is rampant within “Bottoms” (2023), drawing inspiration from similar campy, queer films such as “D.E.B.S.” (2004) and “But I’m a Cheerleader” (1999). (ORION Pictures Inc.)

Seligman and Sennott draw from the zany, off-the-wall action sequences of Edgar Wright’s films just as much as they reference campy lesbian comedies like “D.E.B.S.” (2004) and “But I’m a Cheerleader” (1999). The end result is a rich tapestry of pop culture references that is as unabashedly queer as it is startlingly violent for a teen sex comedy.

Central to the film’s appeal are the timeless costuming and production design choices that constitute its eclectic visual aesthetic. Production design influences from the ‘50s and ‘80s gracefully co-exist alongside classic ’90s and ’00s fashions, which collectively transport viewers to a world where high school is a permanent purgatory for “ugly, untalented gays” not bound by time.

Only one phone is utilized throughout the entire film, which happens to be a Motorola Razr flip phone, leaving it quite ambiguous as to when the film takes place. This prevents the film from feeling out of touch with our ever-shifting technology culture, and allows it to exist both in the past and the present.

Both the costuming and the production design are essential to some of the film’s most riotous gags — how is it possible that a hilariously large-scale recreation of “The Creation of Adam” with the school’s brainless all-American quarterback and his trusty football can be so oddly refined? The clever riffing on high school film tropes that “Bottoms” relishes is made successful by its genius aesthetic composition.

There is an argument to be made that the nonsensicality of the story works against itself sometimes, specifically in the final act, where the momentum lags ever so slightly. The last act punctures the rhythm of the story in a way that distracts from the best part of the film: its outrageous fight scenes. More often than not, however, the big swings the film takes are very often more commendable than not.

If “Bottoms” is proof of anything, it’s that Seligman and Sennott are some of the most fearless young creative voices working in Hollywood today. The seamless transition both have made from working on a modest, low-budget indie to a multi-million dollar studio comedy as unapologetically queer and uncompromising as this should be celebrated as they trailblaze forward in their already dazzling early careers. Audiences get the sense watching this film that it must have been nearly impossible for this cast and crew not to have had the time of their lives on set.

Ultimately, Seligman and Sennott’s carefully calculated chaos translates from page to screen with great ease and unexpected heart, which is sure to make it an instant cult favorite.

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