Most so-called satires lack bite. Bottoms literally gnaws on chunks of flesh and then smiles with bloody teeth. Writer/director Emma Seligman and writer/star Rachel Sennott have somehow interwoven the savagery of Heathers with the hilarity of Mean Girls to answer the unasked question: “What do adults educated entirely post-Columbine, living in an era of open discourse about sexual assault, consider dark comedy these days?”
With more jokes per minute than 80s comedians during the cocaine era, Bottoms tells you what its about right up front. Josie (Ayo Edebiri) and PJ (Sennott) are two horny teen lesbians who want to lose their virginity. Before any puritanical pearl clutching happens, “high-school doofuses try to get laid” is a raunchy comedy trope that dates back at least to Tom Cruise in Losin’ It. Society can’t suddenly be in moral decay if, 40 years ago, someone named a movie Losin’ It and everyone then knew what “it” was and had no time for a G.
Anyway, miscommunication leads to PJ and Josie accidentally-on-purpose launching an all-female fight club, so that PJ can seduce Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Josie can beguile Isabel (Havana Rose Liu). As in Mean Girls and Heathers, the high school in Bottoms is an unrealistic parody filled with undeniable truths. The football players wear their uniforms to class every day. Marshawn Lynch is a history teacher crumbling under the weight of his divorce. The sports showdown with a rival school has frequently led to actual murder. And as that showdown approaches, the secret fisticuff society finds itself in the crosshairs.
Bottoms is stupid smart. That isn’t just using stupid as an adjective but suggesting that Seligman and Sennott wisely deploy gross, dumb, base humor. For every joke about how the star QB is a half-wit with a permanent erection, there’s a quip about bell hooks or trauma exploitation. It is a perilous parody, deftly and dangerously tap dancing over lines labeled “too far.” Perhaps best of all, it manages to do several actually important things without ever stopping to get all serious.
Advances in on-screen representation don’t just mean dramas about marginalized groups overcoming suffering. It also means showing characters from those groups to be flawed, gross hornballs. The casual way in which sexual orientation is handled stealthily documents meaningful progress. We went from “I love my dead gay son” in Heathers to a comedy that plays every note on the Kinsey scale. This absolutely feels like the kind of low-budget gem destined to be a generational touchpoint for decades to come.
And if none of that matters to you, you should watch it because it is breathlessly funny. Edebiri’s endearingly awkward delivery harmonizes with Sennott’s narcissistic bluster to ensure every scene has at least one legit LOL. Not one thing, not one single thing, doesn’t work here. Thus far in 2023, I’ve given an A+ to only two films: a quiet drama about romantic agony (Past Lives) and now a movie in which a football player gets skewered with a sword by someone who huffs paint. I feel good about this.
Grade = A+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Olivia McCormack at the Washington Post says “Is it a daring feminist act to manipulate women into sleeping with you? No. Bottoms doesn’t pretend that it is. Springing off real issues women, girls and LGBTQ+ people face, Bottoms is an eccentric little satire: simultaneously relevant and irreverent.”
Alison Willmore at Vulture says “Bottoms, a jubilant film that Seligman wrote with Sennott as a followup to 2020’s Shiva Baby, moves freely between the surreal, silly, and violent, but it’s never better than when it’s testing the boundaries of taste when it comes to empowerment and misogyny.”
Hannah Giorgis at The Atlantic says “That neither of the two leads has anything resembling an overwrought coming-out subplot is refreshing; even more revelatory is the nonchalance with which the film handles another teen girl’s attraction to her fellow fight-club member. There’s no fanfare about her being with a girl after leaving her boyfriend, no agonizing over anything but the specific circumstances of the new connection. For young people entering an uncertain era of their lives, watching that kind of judgment-free fluidity play out on-screen could easily feel as powerful as landing the perfect punch.”