Reviews TV + Movies

Bottoms: An Inventive, Chaotic, Queer High-School Comedy

Queer films that are fun, silly, chaotic, and unserious are rare to find. Seligman and Sennott’s collaboration pioneers a new genre that ensures entertainment and fun for its queer audiences.

Emma Seligman’s ‘Bottoms’ is a 2023 film about two queer friends Josie (Ayo Ediebiri) and PJ (Rachel Sennott) who are trying to lose their virginity before they graduate high school. In an attempt to protect Isabel—Josie’s crush, they get caught in a squabble with the star of the school football team, Jeff. The school authorities who openly favor the football players are ready to expel them but PJ and Josie save themselves by starting a self-defense club aka fight club for girls.

This is Seligman and Sennott’s second feature film together after Seligman’s uncomfortable and witty directorial debut ‘Shiva Baby’ (2020). Sennott and Seligman co-wrote ‘Bottoms’ wanting to make a comedy for queer girls. Following the legacy of buddy comedy films, such as ‘Superbad’ (2007), and superhero adventure films like ‘Kickass’ (2010) and ‘Scott Pilgrim vs the World’ (2010) this is a film that creates a queer genre of its own. The larger character tropes in the film are influenced by classic American high school films like ‘Mean Girls’ (2004), ‘But I Am a Cheerleader’ (1999), and newer films like ‘Booksmart’ (2019) and ‘Crush’ (2022).

What’s interesting about ‘Bottoms’ is that though it is influenced by chick flicks, buddy comedies, superhero films, and high school dramas, it heightens the absurdities of these genres and creates a reasoning of its own. The idea of school authorities allowing PJ and Josie to start a club where girls fight with each other and learn self-defense is absurd but they don’t question it because the girls feel unsafe due to an incident of abuse by the school’s rival football player. The school authorities’ lack of knowledge and support is intensified along with their obsession with football players. Seligman’s treatment of this lack and obsession becomes the main source of humor in the film.

The stereotypical football-playing-straight-blonde-men who are often the stars of the chick flicks are mocked here. The girls question their need for constant attention, their lack of care, and accountability. Seligman takes these subtleties up a notch to show the extent of their ridiculousness. For instance, the endless posters of Jeff around school, the ill-informed comments of their history teacher, the constant discussion around football, and their dismissal of girls become a display of their toxic masculinity. The gender discrimination that is often underlying in school spaces becomes glaringly obvious through Seligman’s funny and well-informed writing.

Within the social hierarchy of school, Jeff and football players are at the top and self-proclaimed “losers” like Josie and PJ are at the bottom. While the initial reason for starting the club is to save themselves from getting expelled PJ soon sees it as an opening to win the affection of girls and perhaps move up the social ladder. Although their intentions of starting the club are neither well-meaning nor feminist in the process they establish the female solidarity that the school highly lacks. In one of the sessions PJ, Josie, and Hazel decide that they want to create a space where girls can talk about their trauma. PJ says, “It (trauma) just makes girls weirdly horny.” PJ’s intentions are selfish and very much like straight men they hate Please let me know if you have any feedback, I shall make the necessary changes.but the discussion creates a supportive space for the girls. PJ is delusional, impulsive, and dominating. Josie is awkward, scared, and anxious. They both are flawed and imperfect teenagers who don’t fit within the social circle of school but share a strong friendship. Together they give voice to the delusional and awkward lesbians.

The gay best friend character is widely seen in popular films and shows like ‘Booksmart’ (2019), ‘Sex Education’ (2019), and ‘Made in Heaven’ (2019). It’s great to see queer characters find support in their straight friends and vice versa however, we see very little of queer friendships in popular media. Just like the culturally popularized idea of “Ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahi hote,” (A man and a woman can’t be friends) the idea of two queer people can’t be friends gets cemented through the kind of queer relationships we see on screen. Sennott and Ediebiri co-wrote Comedy Central’s series ‘Ayo and Rachel are Single’ (2020) and ‘Taking the Stage’ (2020). Their off-screen chemistry translates into a strong on-screen friendship. 

PJ and Josie’s friendship is special because they both love women, they annoy and love each other, call out each other’s stupid ideas, and get through tough situations together. Indicated by the picture of them together in Josie’s room and by the friendship necklace that both of them wear throughout the film this is a friendship that has marinated over the years.

Rhodes is a queer woman who supported PJ and Josie when they were younger. Josie turns to Rhodes’ for advice when she fights with PJ. Rhodes does not give her advice as she never had friends in high school. Although Rhodes refuses to be Josie’s “gay yoda”, she warns Josie about the fifty-year-old football rivalry and shows her that she is old enough to make her own decisions. There is an established comfort in this relationship where Rhodes can see through Josie’s awkwardness and Josie can talk about her problems freely. The scene between Josie and Rhodes is small but significant, as it shows how despite the gap in experiences queer elders can create a safe space for young queer people.

The film traces the girls’ journey from being unpopular and awkward to finding friendships, love, strength, and solidarity. It takes the audience through a series of shocks, surprises, and laughs. Queer films that are fun, silly, chaotic, and unserious are rare to find. Seligman and Sennott’s collaboration pioneers a new genre that ensures entertainment and fun for its queer audiences. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

When I am not chasing sunsets, you will find me wrapped up in books and discovering new films on letterbox.
Dhyanvi Katharani

We hate spam as much as you. Enter your email address here.