Bottoms takes absurd — and fun — route to female empowerment
For years (heck, decades), men dominated the comedy genre of movies. As the interest of studios in comedies has waned in recent years, it has often been women who have stepped up to show that the demise of the genre is overstated. And 2023 is proving to be the year of the woman for comedies thanks to films like No Hard Feelings, Joy Ride, Barbie, and now Bottoms.
The film centers on two queer high school best friends, PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), both of whom are very awkward in romance. They pine from afar after cheerleaders like Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber), but can’t find a way to make a move. A mistaken assumption by others that the two of them spent time in juvenile detention gives them the idea to start a self-defense/fight club for girls, hoping it will attract the girls to which they’re attracted.
The film, though, is far from your typical high school comedy. In addition to its focus on queer characters, it has a heightened, absurdist sensibility in which football players dress in full uniform every day, former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch plays a teacher, and authority figures are all but absent as the students seem to control every aspect of the school.
Writer/director Emma Seligman and co-writer Sennott have created a story that’s full of social commentary about the way women are treated and the expectations put on them, but in a consistently entertaining package that knows how to land a punch, metaphorically and literally. Showing young women bloody themselves in the name of female empowerment is an out-there concept, but the message comes through loud and clear.
The film explores and pokes fun at a variety of concepts, including the layers of queer identity, masculinity, heteronormativity, patriarchy, and more. Although the story itself goes through many familiar beats along the way, it features characters that don’t ascribe to as many stereotypes, as a lot of them offer up changing and often contradictory viewpoints. This allows for a fluidity you don’t often see in films like this.
Also making it fun is the over-the-top nature of the dialogue. To say that the movie is profane would be an understatement, as PJ, Mr. G, and others let loose with all manner of curse words, sexual innuendo, and more. In the context of the film, though, none of it seems out of place, as it amplifies all the other strange things going on, building the film to a memorable ending.
This feels like one of those movies that will be lauded years from now for its recognition of young talent. In addition to Sennott and Edebiri, both of whom have seen their profiles skyrocket in the past few years, it features Nicholas Galitzine, who just impressed in Red, White and Royal Blue, as well as breakout performances by Ruby Cruz, Liu, Gerber, and Miles Fowler.
Bottoms goes for the gusto in its storytelling, making its plot weird in all the best ways. Combine that with quotable dialogue and a slew of great performances, and you have a film that will be talked about for years to come if it finds the right audience.
Bottoms opens in theaters on September 1.