Directed by Emma Seligman and written by Seligman and Rachel Sennott, Bottoms is a coming-of-age story about two horny teenage girls kicking, punching and slamming their way to getting laid. The film has a stacked cast including Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Ruby Cruz and Miles Fowler. This comedic journey of its young protagonist is not without its issues, but it’s unapologetic in its execution and filled with memorable moments.
Bottoms opens with PJ (Senott) and Josie (Edebiri) having a conversation about girls and sex. As lesbian teens, they don’t have the gumption to approach their crushes. Makes sense as to why, their confidence is in the toilet because they are constantly bullied and called “ugly, untalented gays.” In an attempt to be more social, the friends go to the fairgrounds and spot Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber), the cheerleaders they aim to pursue.
When Isabel gets in an argument with her jock-himbo boyfriend, it leads to an encounter where PJ and Hazel (Cruz) are accused of “assaulting” said boyfriend. At school they are threatened with expulsion, but to get out of that they lie to the principal about starting a self-defense fight club at the school to initiate solidarity among girls. Word gets out that the club is starting and the school misfits show up, followed by Isabel and Brittany.
This complicates things because the untalented gays have been telling this lie about being in juvenile detention to gain popularity. Instead of telling the truth, things spiral out of control and PJ and Hazel can’t reel it in. Crazy enough, this lie brings the popular and the outcast girls together to bond over their hatred of patriarchy, and love of violence. That all comes tumbling down when they find the fantasy they’ve created isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Bottoms exists in a world that is wholly detached from reality. Characters commit violent crimes and their actions aren’t questioned. All men are bad or have some type of issue that requires therapy, while coming off like a queer, feminist fever dream. How on earth can PJ and Josie stand each other, let alone make other friends? In addition, these girls have the nerve to try to take the moral high ground after fibbing their way to popularity. Not that the script is concerned with any of that. The nature of Sennott and Seligman’s script is to be obnoxious, uncomfortable and problematic, and everybody is the target for abuse (with Josie getting the brunt of it). It gets a pass because it’s a tight foundation of ideas to build upon. The problem is that the script does little to address any of the themes it presents. Things are kind of just happening which wore me out after the first hour.
The film is strongest when dealing with the awkwardness of being a teenage queer on the fringe of high school society while having to deal with misogynior, misogyny, and homophobia. Instead of dealing with this in a healthy way, PJ is an a**hole, while Josie is a follower, and both live off this deranged lie they’ve spun. They are mean to others, all while being funny and charming at the same time — it’s the quintessential teenage experience. Eventually, they do learn some humility through sharing their personal stories. Schools should do more to encourage genuine connection among its female students, albeit not while they beat the crap out of each other.
The cast is the glue that holds this movie together, and anchored by its two phenomenal leads, and Seligman’s direction. Edebiri has a different approach to this work with her baby face, quiet sarcasm and hilarious facial expressions. Her energy is infectious, and that partnered with her impeccable comedic timing gives her a unique style that she owns. Sennott isn’t afraid to be the center of attention, and isn’t afraid to look silly while being the center of attention. The actress has self-awareness within her to deliver lines of dialogue with her full body. The duo have different methods of execution and that’s why their chemistry is so balanced here.
Seligman’s style of storytelling and direction thrives on discomfort and anxiety. She is focused on generating queer content told from the POV of the female gaze, and makes smart directorial choices to compliment this. To take such risks shows maturity and a confidence in her craft because there’s nothing more exciting than the director who can visualize even the wackiest of ideas and translate that for a general audience — even if it is sometimes its not politically correct.
Bottoms is fun, and important because women should be able to be just as raunchy as men, but with some slight tweaks this could have been that, as well as an epic exploration of the gray areas of queerness and what it means to stand in the center of that as an adolescent. It’s definitely an ambitious second outing for a director who still has room to grow, but should also be admired for their fearlessness and inventiveness.
Festival: SXSW, Headliners
Director: Emma Seligman
Screenwriter: Emma Seligman, Rachel Sennott
Cast: Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Ruby Cruz, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Miles Fowler, Marshawn Lynch, Dagmara Dominiczyk, Punkie Johnson
Running time: 1 hr 32 min
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