‘Bottoms’ tops other teen comedies

On Aug. 5, my friend and I found ourselves at the AMC Boston Common once again; we had Barbenheimered at that very place just two weeks prior. But on this particular Saturday evening, we were Bottoming.

“Bottoms” follows best friends PJ and Josie as they begin a self-defense club under the guise of promoting female empowerment and solidarity. The reality is: they are both lesbians in their senior year of high school, stereotypically obsessed with losing their virginities to their respective cheerleader crushes for whom the club is targeted. In “Bottoms,” Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott co-star for the first time outside of the low budget sketch-comedies they wrote together in the past. The high-energy, teen movie status of “Bottoms” makes the action film the perfect territory for a necessary feature-length comedy to exhibit the incredible chemistry of the pair to more audiences.

For me, an engaging viewing experience combined with a solid B-list-studded cast made Bottoms” my most memorable 2023 release thus far. The Boston crowd was fantastic. We were audibly engaged from the second we all began cheering for Nicole Kidman’s AMC ad—some even reciting it verbatim—up until the moment we roared when “music by Charli XCX and Leo Birenberg” appeared in the credits. 

Directed by 28-year-old Emma Seligman, the movie is a highly saturated simulation of 21st-century American high school. Colorful, intentional characters and their equally polychromatic situations focalize “Bottoms” as a film. Seligman and Sennott co-wrote the screenplay in fragments over the years since they graduated from NYU and worked together on Seligman’s first feature, “Shiva Baby.” “Bottoms” provides a timeless high school utopia for queer protagonists. The landscape alleviates bigotry, aside from casual homophobic lines aimed at providing comedy for queer viewers. 

The friend who joined me at the early screening in Boston wears khakis to John Mayer concerts, drinks hot coffee and received his bachelor’s in Economics. But he got it. “Bottoms” is a queer film, but it comprises decades of high school comedy themes, David Fincher visual aesthetics and fight choreography that everyone has seen and loved before.

Of course, my straight guy friend getting “Bottoms” may be less of a credit to the movie’s expansive mode of address than it is a credit to the small liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York, from where he got his degree. Four years in the Vassar community is perhaps the reason why he reacted more vocally to a line alluding to Gloria Steinem as the mother of feminism than any of the other theater patrons. Vassar’s political sensibilities may also explain why he uncontrollably snorted in response to an improvised one-liner delivered by Ayo Edebiri, defining another character as “a Black Republican.”

While I feel that “Bottoms” was a missed opportunity for a revolutionary queer reupholstering of the high-school comedy genre, it is easy for me to forget that the film is in fact revolutionary in and of itself. It is fresh because of its intersectional identity not dissimilar to the multifaceted identities of many of its characters; “Bottoms” is both a work of new queer cinema and a teen action comedy inspired tonally by the likes of David Fincher’s “Fight Club” and Edgar Wright’s “The World’s End.” Sennot and Selingman did not upcycle certain one-dimensional characterization molds. They sought to revolutionize the realm of queer cinema, not to reexamine the tropes of teen action comedy. In this vein, the film lacked an emphasis on satire. The inexperienced characters’ obsession with having sex solely for having it is not scrutinized. I suppose that lack of criticizing absurdity also fuels the near-perfect execution of the feature-length film. There is simplicity to “Bottoms” that not only makes it the perfect plot to pitch pre-production; it also supports the artistic precision of the three-act structure as a finished product. “Bottoms” is undeniably just another absurd high-school movie, but its innovation lies in it giving that absurdism to those who have not had a place in it before.

I knew “Bottoms” was going to be explosive even before I experienced this early screening, but I was not expecting such an exponential uptick in distribution this month. Advertisement was sparse before August, but with social media promotion near “Barbie”-like proportions, it is relevant beyond the niche of queer circles. 

This is not about my straight guy friend who accompanied me to the AMC Boston Common, though. Anytime before 3 p.m. in the halls of my all-girls Catholic high-school, we referred to our Gay-Straight Alliance as “fight club” to keep it under wraps. Now, “Bottoms” is the only thing I would ever euphemistically refer to as such. Queerness is neither a lens through which to read the congested masculinity of David Fincher’s “Fight Club,” nor is it an experience allegorical to that of being a high-school outcast. It is an identity distinct from just being a plain loser at high school. PJ and Josie are gay girls who are also just incredibly uncool and untactful when it comes to reaching their goals. In “Bottoms,” those goals happen to be romantic. It is a teen comedy, after all. And with that, cinema is back and better than it was before. Low-stakes, light-hearted queer chaos is here and should stay.


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