“Bottoms,” released on Aug. 25, is the delightfully campy comedy sophomore film from co-writer and director Emma Seligman that offers refreshing queer representation in a space and genre that has been largely unpopulated by stories starring queer protagonists.
“Bottoms”, follows two lesbian virgins Josie, played by Ayo Edebiri, and PJ, played by co-writer of the film, Rachel Sennott. The film documents their effort to start a fight club at their high school to meet girls.
Seligman creates an overdramatic satirical depiction of high school, with the principal and student-body entirely centered around the school’s goofy football team and the intense, violent rivalry with another high school. In the midst of this, PJ and Josie only have one goal: to look good in front of the beautiful cheerleaders.
After so many male-buddy comedies focused on guys trying to get laid, it’s refreshing to see a different take on the genre. The film acts almost like a combination of “But I’m a Cheerleader” (1999) with its over-the-top style and creation of an absurdist world, and “Booksmart” (2019) with its witty, charming and sex-desperate protagonists. With a refreshingly short runtime of only 92 minutes, every minute feels enjoyable and necessary, leaving the audience wanting more.
Sennott and Edebiri’s both deliver hilarious performances and the audience can see their chemistry jumping off the screen. With many improvised lines that show off their comedic chops, they riff off each other so naturally it’s easy to forget they are acting. While much of the dialogue is raunchy and absurd, it never feels out of place in Seligman’s world. There are so many small and fleeting yet priceless jokes that fill in the empty space in the story. One of the best is the introduction to a football player who is locked in a cage in the background of an early scene, only to be explained far later in the story.
Professional football player Marshawn Lynch’s performance as the unconventional and inappropriate history teacher and club advisor was especially fun to watch. It almost feels like acting is his primary profession. The casting of a NFL football player in a movie about overly dramatic football players is one of the best and most subtle uses of irony in this movie.
Another standout is the soundtrack, produced by pop icon Charli XCX and Leo Birenberg. The film’s soundtrack plays a big part of the story as it accompanies the needle-drop moments using popular songs from female artists such as Avril Lavigne, Cyndi Lauper, King Princess and Charli XCX herself. King Princess’s “PAIN” was a great addition to the fighting scenes with its catchy tune and clear parallels between the subject matter and the song’s lyrics. Songs like “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler pay homage to classic Y2K teen movies that seem to be a big inspiration for the movie, giving “Bottoms” a timeless feel.
Beneath the surface of being witty and sex positive, “Bottoms” offers commentary on the effects of toxic masculinity. The movie creates an exaggerated depiction in the form of the high school football team to point out the ridiculousness of the patriarchy. However, not only are the female and queer characters affected by it, the male football players are both perpetrators and victims of toxic masculinity themselves. In the end, it is up to the women to save them and change things.
“Bottoms” proves that queer characters can have light-hearted and enjoyable stories just like their straight counterparts. LGBTQ+ characters are not the butt of the jokes but rather the creators of them. While the movie is outwardly comedic, there are also tender moments that make it feel like a romcom at times. In many other movies, queer characters are punished in some way — experiencing bullying, not being accepted, having to choose between love and family or meeting some other tragic fate. PJ and Josie are far from perfect (and at times, are actively immoral) and that’s okay. Not every gay character needs to play the angel or the martyr.
“Bottoms” showcases many rising talents like Sennott and Edebiri. It also signifies a shift in the types of movies being made, proving that when women are in the driver’s seat, good things can happen. Despite still being early in her career, Seligman has already demonstrated a great understanding of comedy and entertainment. She’s definitely a powerhouse to be on the lookout for.
This appeared in the October 19th Daily Nexus printed edition.