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In a school where it’s okay to be gay, but not gay and untalented, PJ and Josie are at the bottom of the social ladder: queer, virgins, and social outcasts. Their luck begins to change when they start an all-girl fight club as a way to impress their crushes.
Co-writers Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott, also director and star respectively, last teamed up for 2020’s Shiva Baby. You might know co-star Ayo Edebiri as Sydney on The Bear or the voice of Missy in Big Mouth. Football star turned comedic personality Marshawn Lynch is an unexpected scene-stealer as their laissez-faire academic advisor.
After accidentally starting a feud with the school’s beloved quarterback, PJ and Josie concoct an after-school fight club as a way to garner the respect of their school and win the attention of the popular girls. But the Superbad-esque plot for underdogs to get laid soon meets the unexpected current of campy violence, in the spirit of Jennifer’s Body or Jawbreaker. The two threads exist in harmonious tandem, equal parts teen sex comedy and bloody brawl-fest.
Pretending to have spent the summer in juvie, the best friend duo guides a rag-tag girl group to beat each other up with abandon, finding outlets for their simmering rage and/or sexual frustration. PJ (played by Sennott) is a brash firecracker that drives the duo forward, committing them to their ill-advised plan. Edebiri’s turn as Josie, though, PJ’s gawky but sweet BFF, is the heart and soul of the film. She’s immediately endearing and warm, giving the audience a reason to root for these girls. Her unlikely romance plot with the quarterback’s girlfriend (played by Havana Rose Liu) is the film’s emotional core, though not lacking in laughs itself.
Bottoms has all the trappings of a classic high school movie and amplifies them to absurdity, like the football guys wearing their uniforms to class, full padding included. The film’s style is bright, quick, and shines with improvisation. The stars bounce off each other with undeniable chemistry.
Something to admire is the film’s commitment to making its female stars exactly as misguided, loser-y, and blindingly horny as their male counterparts have been in other teen films. They’re a pair of shameless, selfish girls, caught up in a mess they created in order to win the attention of the popular girls. It’s a refreshing twist on a trope and one that feels overdue.
For lovers of the classic teen sex comedy, Bottoms has much to offer: well-played comedy, over-the-top antics, and underdogs to root for. But those in the market for something fresh will be even more rewarded, as the film flips the script on a well-worn genre. Deservedly so, because anyone who’s been an awkward teen girl probably related more to Jonah Hill in Superbad than they did Emma Stone. At least this writer.
Bottoms has all the makings of a classic sleepover movie for a new generation. Perfect for staying up past your bedtime to giggle with your friends over. Though with a deserved R rating, it might be best left to older teens and teens at heart.
Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri were roommates during their time at NYU, where they also met director Emma Seligman. Friend group-driven movies are having a real moment (cough cough Theater Camp).