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‘Bottoms’ Review: The Queer Revival Of The Teen Sex Comedy



Bottoms (2023) Review
Image via Unsplash

Like any sane film fan who watched Shiva Baby at the start of the decade, I couldn’t wait to see what director Emma Seligman and star Rachel Sennott would do next. Following their successful debut that earned a variety of accolades, Seligman and Sennott teamed up again to create their collaborative feature Bottoms. Co-written by the pair, the new film explores the absurd struggle faced by young queer women as they try to navigate growing up, having sex, and dealing with hormone-driven girl-obsessions.


For anyone outside of North America, accessing Bottoms has been a journey of yearning similar to that experienced by the girls in the movie. By some miraculous ‘right place, right time’ moment I saw Bottoms while I was in Toronto for work, just two days before I flew home. Now, I’m not trying to show off, but this was the greatest cinema experience of my life. The screen was packed full of people equally excited as me, and we laughed and cheered and cringed together for the entire 91 minutes. Although the film was truly loved by everyone, this is a milestone in cinema for every young queer person. It is impossible to describe the feeling of a sold-out cinema screen clapping and cheering when the girl gets the girl. 


Bottoms follows queer high schoolers PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) as they form a fight club disguised as a space for female empowerment that is actually a way for them to hook up with cheerleaders. The film opens with the girls psyching themselves up to talk to their crushes, Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber), having decided it is finally their year to “get cooch”. After a major flirting fail and an accidental vehicular attack on Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), Isabel’s boyfriend and golden boy of the town, in order to avoid getting expelled from school for “crimes against Jeff”, the pair claim they were practising for a new ‘self-defence club’. They quickly realise that the combination of blood, sweat, and physical contact is the perfect way to fulfil their goal of sleeping with Isabel and Brittany, whom they recruit to the club. 


It goes without saying that Bottoms is equally hilarious and ridiculous, with every detail thought out with care. Gorgeous costuming by Eunice Jera Lee pays homage to classic teen comedies like Bring It On (2000), Heathers (1988), and Clueless (1995) while characterising each member of the fight club individually. Every piece of the set contributes to the school's exaggerated obsession with sexuality, particularly that of their iconic quarterback Jeff, whose image is plastered across the school’s walls, illustrated in nothing but speedos.


It is worth discussing Bottoms in a way that highlights why it is so important, and why it is so good. Not only does the film revive the raunchy teen comedy that was perfected in the 2000s with films like Easy A (2010), Juno (2007), and Superbad (2007), but it does so with a story that is unapologetically queer. While a few inspirational queer cult classics stand out in the teen comedy genre (But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) is given a nod during a first sort-of date between Josie and Isabel), the majority of mainstream queer stories are dramatic, tragic, and rarely explore the hormonal sexuality that comes hand in hand with being a teenager. 


While every queer story that is created, shown, and talked about is a monumental win for the community, it is refreshing to see young queer characters presented with an honest, messy horniness. This characterisation allows the film to explore the complexities of female friendships, co-dependence and obsessiveness, never portrayed as powerfully as in Jennifer’s Body (2009); another of Seligman’s inspirations. Literally advertising itself with the tagline “a movie about empowering women (the hot ones)”, Bottoms satirises the overly optimistic ‘girlboss’ feminism that has been cropping up in recent media. It allows teenagers to be messy, stupid, selfish, scared, and hormonal, as well as kind, earnest, and loving, and it does so with genuinely side-splitting comedic timing. 


If the premise of Bottoms isn’t enough to interest you, then its three figureheads—Emma Seligman, Rachel Sennott, and Ayo Edebiri—should be. The friendship the trio formed while at university together at NYU Tisch School of the Arts shines through every project they create together, with Bottoms being just one of many. The love and history these women share shines through in their work, and the clear joy they have collaborating with each other makes the film a delight to watch.


A brilliant precursor to Bottoms that’s worth checking out is Sennott and Edebiri’s digital comedy mini-series Ayo and Rachel are Single, and the young comedians have been popping up more and more regularly in TV and film. Sennott is consistently singled out for her raw star power, such as her standout performance in A24’s Gen Z slasher comedy Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022). As for Edebiri, from her lead in the incredibly popular drama series The Bear (2022–), to Theater Camp (2023), Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023), and Black Mirror (2011–), to co-producing or writing for projects such as What We Do in the Shadows (2019–), Dickinson (2019–21), and Big Mouth (2017–24), it’s hard to find a piece of work she isn’t involved with in some capacity. 


I would like to herald the representation in Bottoms as the next step in feminist film theory, following what I affectionately describe as the ‘new age bimbo’. This is something that was arguably launched in the early 2000s with Legally Blonde (2001) and has now reached worldwide recognition with Barbie (2023). The film industry's initial response to a long-awaited acknowledgement of poorly written, over-sexualised female characters was to essentially write women as men. From Alien (1979) to Captain Marvel (2019), it seemed the only way a woman could be ‘good’ was if she was physically strong, emotionless, and all-round masculine. Elle Woods provided the turning point to embrace the power of shameless femininity—seeing a blonde, pink-clad woman not only refuse to change herself to fit into a male-dominated field but actively succeed because of her ‘girly’ knowledge of hair care is a moment that should be documented in the history books.

 

While films like Legally Blonde started expressing that it’s okay for girls to be girly, Bottoms lets the world know that it’s okay for queer teenagers to be just that. The love for the film, at least for me, comes from the power of knowing that I was Josie; an awkward, nerdy lesbian fumbling through conversations with pretty girls and completely failing to process the whirlwind of emotions we all struggle with. And if you’re not a Josie, you might be a PJ, a Hazel (Ruby Cruz), or an Isabel, because Bottoms has such a glorious range of characters that you will be able to relate to in one way or another.


Beauty, ridiculousness, and absurdity are at the top and bottom of this film. Bottoms highlights the power in stupidity, and joy in knowing that films don't always have to be anything more than entertaining. There is further strength in this bizarre story being made by and for queer people who so rarely get to experience it. Seligman wanted to “create something for women and young queer people that was fun and stupid”, and that is exactly what she did.


 

Edited by Martha Knox, Co-Film & TV Editor

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