Zany and Fearless, Bottoms Takes on High School From a Raunchy Lesbian Point of View

Not Just Another Teen Movie

click to enlarge Queer girls Josie (Ayo Edebiri) and PJ (Rachel Sennott), on the far left, cope with the absurdity of high school. - COURTESY OF ORION PICTURES INC © 2023 ORION RELEASING LLC
Queer girls Josie (Ayo Edebiri) and PJ (Rachel Sennott), on the far left, cope with the absurdity of high school.
Directed by Emma Seligman. Written by Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott. Opens September 1.

If this was 20 years ago, Bottoms would kill on the gay & lesbian film festival circuit.
As someone who has written about LGBTQ film fests in the past, I found this uber-zany, proudly queer, teen burlesque just the kind of fun, frivolous nonsense programmers would look for to balance out the slew of well-meaning dramas and documentaries that would nevertheless bum everyone — gay, straight, whatever — the fuck out.

But this is 2023, and queer culture is all over movies, television, streaming, etc. My good friend and fellow film-reviewing colleague Jason Shawhan recently wrote an essay in Nashville Scene breaking down the queerness that’s been infiltrating the multiplexes these days. From Barbie’s homoerotic humor (weren’t those Kens more into each other than the Barbies?) to Jason Momoa being the Fast and Furious franchise’s first sexually ambiguous villain to the alpha-bro in the latest A24 scarefest Talk to Me being played by a trans actor to Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, directed by gay director Justin Simien, quietly hinting that Tiffany Haddish and Jamie Lee Curtis’s psychics could have a wonderful life together, it’s been a, shall we say, fabulous time at the movies this summer.

Bottoms belongs in the more low-budget, indie section of the multiplex (a.k.a. the ones that are bold enough to have screens for queer flicks like Passages and Theater Camp). After giving us the claustrophobic comedy Shiva Baby, director Emma Seligman (who is herself gay) and actress Rachel Sennott once again team up to drop their own take on the raunchy teen-sex farce. This time, the desperate, virginal protagonists looking to land some tantalizing teenage girls are teenage girls themselves.

Sennott reunites with the ubiquitous Ayo Edebiri (they starred in the very short-lived Comedy Central web series Ayo and Rachel Are Single) to play PJ and Rosie, two high-school seniors/nerdy lesbians who have crushes on the resident popular cheerleaders (models Havana Rose Liu and Kaia Gerber). When word gets out that their school’s rival football team is attacking students, PJ and Josie set up a self-defense club for the female students. Of course, they don’t know a damn thing about defending themselves. But since the student body thinks PJ and Rosie have been in juvie (a long story) — and their crushes join the club — they run with the lie and basically oversee a fight club for gals.

Bottoms is an hour and 32 minutes of Seligman and Sennott (who both wrote the script) indulging in the same adolescent, horndog fantasies male filmmakers have been slapping on the big screen for generations. Sennott and Edebiri basically play the queer female versions of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera’s lustful teen losers from Superbad. Sennott fearlessly goes into asshole mode at every turn, as her character is so steadfast in her mission to get into a girl’s pants, she doesn’t mind alienating her fellow teenage queer brethren. As for Edebiri, who often acts like a female Donald Glover, she serves as the sheepish straight (pardon the pun) man.

Since this is a comedy written and directed by women, the shenanigans are more satirical — and more feminist. The football-playing boys (who are constantly in full uniform, all looking like ditzy-ass versions of Kevin from Daria) act more queer than the movie’s actual queer people. In fact, the majority of the male characters are gotdamn fools. Leading the charge is former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch, scoring laughs left and right as a false fact-spewing, going-through-a-divorce teacher who becomes the girls’ club sponsor.

The film’s reckless, absurdist abandon almost brings to mind the blatantly ludicrous, hyper-satirical style gay screenwriter/playwright/wicked wit Paul Rudnick brought to such major-studio farces as In and Out, The First Wives Club (for which he did a bitchy, uncredited rewrite) and that much-maligned, batshit culture crash Marci X.

As enjoyable as it is watching teen girls be just as horny as the guys, I often felt like the lunacy would get away from Seligman and Sennott. The movie’s such a Mad Magazine-style parody of high school, much of it felt like farce for the sake of farce.

Then again, maybe that’s the point. I’m sure many people will tell you that high school was the most absurd, insane time of their lives. Bottoms makes it known that it was also just as absurd and insane for the queer folk. As far as R-rated teen comedies for the ladies go, Bottoms is certainly a more exuberant — and exuberantly gay (in every sense of the word) — film than Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart.

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