Every generation has its own teen comedies that encapsulate the zeitgeist of its youth. This is especially true in satire, with fan-favorite flicks like Wet Hot American Summer and Not Another Teen Movie quickly coming to mind. Writer-director Emma Seligman’s second feature Bottoms, starring co-writer and executive producer Rachel Sennott, is precisely that for today’s generation of queer youth. But for as much that it does borrow a few notes from the best of the genre, Bottoms provides a reflection on teen angst and sex that is both uniquely disruptive and innovative. Seligman and Sennott’s follow-up to 2020’s Shiva Baby breaks barriers and sets a new bar for what modern teen satires could and should strive for. Get ready because Bottoms isn’t only destined to be one of 2023’s breakout indie gems, but a new cult classic with a strong passionate fanbase.
The comedic duo of Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri (The Bear) guide us through a satirical portrayal of the trials and tribulations of being a modern queer teen, and it’s as unhinged as you would expect. Sennott and Edebiri play PJ and Josie respectively, two lesbians who start a self-defense club in their high school senior year in an effort to hit on the hottest girls and lose their virginities before graduation. These childhood best friends are some of the biggest oddballs around, and always have each other’s backs as they scrape the bottom of the hierarchical food chain. They do get bullied for being lesbians, but they’re also always hilariously shooting their shots at girls out of their league. When their self-defense club picks up steam and attracts all kinds of female students, from fellow awkward outcasts to the most popular cheerleaders, it turns into a full-out fight club.
The satirical high school world of Bottoms flips the switch on common stereotypes while also playing them to the extreme. For example, the male high school football team is worshiped like kings to the point where they have all the students and staff under their thumbs. They’re so self-absorbed that they frequently try to get away with sexual harassment and more, but at the same time, they’re all extremely flamboyant divas. This is just one of the film’s many comedic paradoxes that fuels its emotional female core. In an environment where all the women have accepted being devalued and treated like props to the point of parody, they end up bringing out the best in each other when united. It’s just that in Bottoms, these women come together and learn how to own their femininity and identities by beating the crap out of each other in a tight-lipped fight club.
If you think this plot already sounds wild, it’s only the beginning. Bottoms knows no limits in its satire, getting more balls to the wall insane as each act progresses. The comedy Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott inject into their script is as pitch black as you can imagine – in the very best way possible. Simply calling it raunchy or provocative feels like an understatement. Through the darkest sense of humor, Bottoms takes a jab at everything from social norms to identity politics to heavier topics like trauma and abuse. The comedy, however, never comes across as unbalanced thanks to Seligman and Sennott’s witty sensibilities. The writing duo is savvy in saving their most abrasive jokes for the right moments, making them land as hard as they can. And just like any great satire, Bottoms knows how to keep upping its humor as the story progresses.
Bottoms manages to pull off the rare comedic feat of being totally random with its humor without it feeling forced. From the very beginning, a tone is set that teaches the audience how to just roll with it. Anything can happen at any given time in this absurd environment and it can often be overwhelming, but in a way that makes you want to instantly rewind a scene to catch your breath from laughing so damn hard. As we explore more of the film’s zany high school, every character in the frame is frequently occupied with committing to their own side bit and background gags. Some are easier to catch than others, however, it never feels like the film is trying too hard to be random for the sake of it. Rather, it’s controlled chaos, similar to the unpredictable nature of classic Adam McKay comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers.
From the hilarious satire of Bottoms rises an effective coming-of-age tale. The emotional throughline of this youthful narrative is felt from start to finish, and is part of the reason why the chaotic humor is never distracting or out of place. As our group of women led by PJ and Josie exchange bruises and black eyes, they discover that their identities aren’t so easily defined and must open themselves up – creatively, sexually, and everything in between – if they are to survive in their off-kilter world. Bottoms may follow a familiar coming-of-age structure, yet the film actually has its most fun by hamming these tropes up. Bottoms is unashamed of its heightened campiness, horny teens, evil jocks, ditzy cheerleaders, and one Avril Lavigne needle drop included. Yes, the film is very self-referential, though, it’s all coming from the heart instead of asking for brownie points.
This finally brings us to the driving force of Bottoms: its all-female main ensemble. The duo of Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri, which first got their break on Comedy Central, reinvent their on-screen dynamic into what is arguably their funniest work yet. Both of their roles play into their brash comedic strengths while stretching out into fresher territory, giving them some much-needed emotional vulnerability. They are joined by the talented Havana Rose Liu (No Exit), Kaia Gerber (Babylon), Ruby Cruz (Willow), Summer Joy Campbell (Paradise Lost), Virginia Tucker (Days of Daisy), and Zamani Wilder (Swagger). They all bring their a-game and individual comedic flavors, which are further bolstered by the ace script. Every character is given multiple chances to create their own memorable laughs to the point where there are far too many to count. Bottoms is surely only going to get funnier over time thanks to this electric cast.
Of course, the LGBTQ+ representation in this story cannot be overlooked. Bottoms is merely the latest in a bright new era of queer cinema, though, this definitely rises above its contemporaries due to its pure audaciousness. Emma Seligman’s film lets its sexually liberated characters run wild from the get-go, and never looks back as they quite literally set their world on fire. It pulls no punches and couldn’t care less about what haters may think. Additionally, nothing is thrown around for easy shits and giggles. Bottoms earns its laughs through a genuine tale of two young lesbians fighting for their overdue high school love story. When they eventually find themselves entangled in a naturally messy queer romance, the movie doubles if not triples in charm. Bottoms won’t be just remembered for being a fantastic high-school comedy, but one of the best the comedy genre itself has given us altogether.
Suffice it to say, Bottoms is already in the running for the laugh-out-loud comedy of 2023. With the help of cinematographer Maria Rusche and Charli XCX and Leo Birenberg, who provide the film’s music, Emma Seligman and co. have created a fully-realized satirical world that will be deeply cherished over time as more young moviegoers discover it. In a lesser teen comedy, certain bits like former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch being a hysterical high school teacher (yes, you read that right) would stop being funny after a few scenes. In Bottoms, such ridiculous characters are actively included in the film’s emotional journey and stay hilarious all the way through. The same can be said for Nicholas Galitzine and Miles Fowler’s evil jocks. A cult classic in every sense of the meaning, there’s just too much to love and lose your shit laughing over in Bottoms.