Sometimes a movie gets made that is so unhinged in a very specific way that it makes you wonder if there were ever any adults on set—like a real adult, with a mortgage and a car payment. In its best moments, Barbie feels like that, like getting away with something while everyone serious and responsible has their back turned, but Bottoms feels like that ALL the time, like a real adult never once set foot on set, looked at the script, or even knew, in fact, that they were financing this movie’s production in the first place. Co-written by director Emma Seligman and star Rachel Sennott—who previously collaborated on Shiva Baby—Bottoms is gleefully absurd, borderline deranged, even. It really feels like Sennott and Seligman just kept chanting “yes” at each other until they manifested this film, a delightfully unhinged take on the high school sex comedy.
Sennott and Ayo Edebiri star as PJ and Josie, respectively, a pair of “ugly, untalented gays” doing time in an oppressive, suburban high school in Anywheresville, USA (cinematographer Maria Rusche renders their school so purposefully hideous it’s fantastic). Bottoms is deliberately vague on details like time and place—there are flip phones and Discmans, no social media, and phone books, which points to a 90s-esque setting, but they also reference Entourage and other current pop culture touchstones, so the end result is a film that feels made by Bubble Zillennials for a thoroughly Gen Z audience. But far from alienating older viewers, the tangible force of female rage in Bottoms is (depressingly) relevant to women of all times and places.
The high school in Bottoms runs on the same absurd logic as Padua High in 10 Things I Hate About You (itself playing on the parodical humor in Clueless, which was pinging off the actually serious representation of teen cliques in John Hughes’ films). The football players always wear their uniforms, pads and all, regardless of context, and the school’s top wrestler is kept in a cage, upon which no one remarks. There are a lot of throwaway gags like this in Bottoms, some of which play as simple dumb fun, but some of which can carry heavier weight. The inciting incident of the plot, for instance, comes when Josie barely grazes football star Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine, better here as a teen boy’s id run psychotically amok than he has ever been anywhere else, period) with her car and he blows out his knee.
It’s partly a visual gag (very funny, played to perfection by Galitzine), but it also delineates the stark difference between a teen boy’s experience in the world—especially a handsome, white, athletic teen boy’s experience—and a teen girl’s experience. In the only truly serious moment in the film, PJ, Josie, and the other girls in their class recount their very real, very harrowing experiences with assault, stalking, and harassment, all truly frightening things the girls are expected to absorb and never mention, while big boy Jeff can’t even handle a minor boo boo.
In order to stave off expulsion, and justify grazing Jeff with Josie’s fender, PJ and Josie claim they are starting a self-defense club, quickly rebranded as a fight club, for the girls in the school. Again, the shadow of something darker moves behind Bottoms’s ribald silliness—a girl at their school was assaulted by a player on the rival school’s football team. This adds to the lies PJ and Josie are already telling—a misunderstanding spins out of control until everyone in school believes PJ and Josie spent their summer in juvenile detention—and while there is an eventual reckoning for all these untruths, that’s not really the point of Bottoms.
The point of Bottoms is its freewheeling weirdness, a notable departure from the but-my-poor-nerves awkward tension of Shiva Baby, and its unapologetic horniness. In a classic teen movie trope, PJ and Josie want to lose their virginities before college, a real challenge given their “ugliness” and unpopularity. It is worth noting that neither Rachel Sennott nor Ayo Edebiri is ugly, but the film INSISTS on calling them so at every opportunity, until it becomes as much of a joke as the obvious fact that all of the “teens” in the movie are played by actors well over 21. It’s similar to Pen15’s logic of just having adults play teens and never acknowledging it until that, in and of itself, becomes a joke.
For all that it is dumb on purpose, weird beyond belief—you thought Barbie was weird? Buckle up—and swimming in hormones and horniness, Bottoms is clever about its message. There is no preaching and no finger wagging, but this is a film that posits the world is dark and dangerous for women, and that there is no hero or heroine coming to save the day. The world is what it is, but amidst that reality, women (and girls) are still out here trying to get laid and enjoy life. There is a lot of joy in Bottoms, even if it is mined from within dark spaces.
Also, it’s fun to see a teen movie that reflects Gen Z’s acceptance of queerness while still positing that the worst thing a high schooler can be is “ugly and untalented”. The more things change, et cetera. Bottoms is fun, funny, bonkers, and horny, and while raunchy comedies continue to flounder commercially, I can’t help but feel Bottoms will find an audience of devotees just as 10 Things I Hate About You, But I’m a Cheerleader, Clueless, and Heathers did for previous generations.
This review was published during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes of 2023. The work being reviewed would not exist without the labor of writers and actors. Bottoms is now playing exclusively in theaters.