Brad Pitt might have said the first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club, but the first rule of Bottoms—the cocksure new queer teen comedy from Shiva Baby’s virtuoso duo of writer-director Emma Seligman and writer Rachel Sennott which just screened at NewFest in NYC—is that you will most definitely want to talk about Bottoms. You will want to sing Bottoms’ hosannas from the rooftops. You’ll want to slap your neighbor across the face while wearing a ring that has “smottoB” written on it so that when they look in the mirror they will see “Bottoms” written in their cheek-bruise. As a gay man this won’t be the first time I’ll have said this in my life, but thank heavens for Bottoms. What a picture! What a riot of entertainment!
Admittedly more mainstream than their last collab, the script by Seligman and Sennott for Bottoms is not an ounce less cuckoo than the perfectly executed symphony of anxiety that was Shiva Baby—they’ve just decided to scribble more inside the lines of genre this go-round. The genre being here the “high school comedy,” but we haven’t seen a high-school comedy this aggressive and unapologetically out there since Heathers. One’s tempted to say this is what we’d have gotten if John Waters had made Booksmart, but let’s just say it’s what we’d get if people who love John Waters and grew up watching John Waters movies revamped Booksmart, since Seligman and Sennott are very much their own brand new brand of punk pride parade. And right when the world needs it most.
Sennott (fresh off stealing Bodies Bodies Bodies last year) here stars as PJ who, alongside her bestie Josie (played by Abbott Elementary and The Bear actor Ayo Edebiri), make for their school’s biggest loser gays. See, we’ve now reached the point in culture where tokenism can be damned—there are entire hierarchies of homos. A sapphic strata, if you will. That’s some progress! There’s the cool musical theater Glee boy up top, high-fiving all the football players. And then… well, down down down at the bottom you’ve got the self-professed “ugly and untalented” duo seen leading our film today.
PJ and Josie don’t seem to be particularly good at anything in school. (In an affectation borrowed from Clueless but taken to its hilarious extreme here, nobody at this school seems to be learning anything anyway, as typified by Marshawn Lynch—the film’s lowkey MVP—playing a hilariously distracted teacher.) PJ and Josie don’t seem to have any interests at all or any big ideas about their futures. They’re not particularly “nice people.” Like the heroes of many a Teen Sex Comedy before them, PJ and Josie have got one single extracurricular thing on their mind—one white-hot goal that consumes their every thought. And that goal is getting laid. A time-honored tradition!
PJ is hot for the model gorgeous Brittany (played by Cindy Crawford’s model-gorgeous daughter Kaia Gerber), while Josie is nursing a long-term flame for (who else) the dreamy cheerleader Isabel (Havana Rose Liu). Unfortunately, Isabel is naturally but inconveniently partnered up with (who else) the quarterback Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine)—a riot of pampered toxic male privilege, Jeff’s allergy to pineapple has become the school religion, and his image in bulging briefs wallpapers the school hallways. Never have you seen the gods of football so pompously adored (and that’s obviously saying something in this ridiculous country).
And eventually, through a series of escalating nonsense lies about how they spent their summer vacation (shivs are invoked), PJ and Josie hatch a plan on how to get their dream girls. A plan which is also, funny enough, nonsense. (Blessedly this movie does love its nonsense.) PJ and Josie decide they will start a female fight club (nÃ©e self-defense club) and that there, amid all of the wrestling and sweating and the hot girl-on-girl action, kissing and the like will inevitably ensue. I mean… why wouldn’t that work? It’s fool-proof, they tells ya!
What it is, actually, is hella goofy, and Seligman and Sennott (slathering the deliciously sophomoric across their sophomore film) lean into the goof factor at a thousand miles a minute. Bottoms is chaos, beautiful goofy chaos, with Sennott and Edebiri marching us straight into the fray like maniacal dork commanders. The punchlines (often involving literal punches) are fast and furious, and the violence is off-the-charts. Whatever you’re expecting, dial that shit up to eleven, and Bottoms will still top your expectations. (Sidenote: I demand a sequel titled Tops, because I need that boxed-set on my blu-ray shelf.)
So anyway as the girls begin to find solidarity through their sexy fisticuffs, the structures that hold up this society begin to quake—the system, getting a good queering, will invariably fight back. Quarterback Jeff’s right-hand fella Tim (Miles Fowler) begins digging into PJ and Josie’s fraudulent back-stories, while the Principal (Wayne PÃ©re) obviously sucks at the teat of team sports too—women standing with women are taking it from all sides! How will they ever all come together to, uhh, come together?
I won’t spoil Bottoms’ last act bedlam here, no worries, but be assured that Seligman builds this sissy girl slap party unto a glorious apex of comic mayhem, spitting teeth in the face of all foes. What it is, turns out, is catharsis, the kind I haven’t felt inside a movie theater in ages. Bottoms is a true laugh riot, brimming with ingenuity and spark and enough kicks to the nuts to power ten lesser movies. Bottoms, as any queer’ll tell ya, makes the rockin’ world go round.