Bottoms — Mediaversity Reviews (2024)

“While Bottoms features a diverse cast with Black and queer main characters, it stays light on topics of identity.”

Title: Bottoms (2023)
Director: Emma Seligman 👩🏼🇺🇸🌈
Writers: Emma Seligman 👩🏼🇺🇸🌈 and Rachel Sennott 👩🏼🇺🇸

Reviewed by Weiting 👩🏻🇨🇳🇺🇸


Technical: 4/5

Following her 2020 indie hit Shiva Baby, writer/director Emma Seligman’s hysterical sophom*ore feature Bottoms became an instant favorite after its premiere at SXSW last month. Co-written by Seligman’s long-time collaborator Rachel Sennott, this coming-of-age satire wields dark humor to strike at Gen Z’s zeitgeist.

At Rock Ridge High, we’re launched into the burning desires of gay seniors PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) to lose their virginities to cheerleaders Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), respectively. Manipulating Brittany and Isabel into believing that it’s for the greater good of female empowerment, PJ and Josie enlist them into a fight club where girls are supposed to learn self-defense by attacking each other.

From here, the film both upholds and subverts the familiar tropes of teen comedies: A dynamic duo of awkward losers manage to win the hearts of popular cheerleaders; mind-numbingly dull jocks meet demises of their own making; and messy, juvenile friendships go through breakups (and make ups, of course).

Aided by cinematographer Maria Rusche’s swerving handheld shots and editor Hannah Park’s flashy cross-cutting, Bottoms feels unhinged in the best way possible. Powered by an electrifying ensemble performance, the film goes all out with its gory B-movie fun in this campy genre mishmash.

Gender: 5/5
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES

Seligman and Sennott write their most affecting jokes around gender. However, their comparisons of female and male characters are never so black-and-white as to mold girls into victims or boys into villains—rather, the script reveals the moral gray of anyone who lies and schemes to get what they want. This nuanced approach of depicting PJ and Josie as anti-heroes makes them that much more realistic (and funny).

Vying for the cheerleaders’ favor, PJ and Josie compete with the likes of Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), the football captain who is in an on-and-off relationship with Isabel. While Jeff and his teammate Tim (Miles Fowler) live in the carefree world of testosterone-driven sports and fangirls, PJ and Josie struggle at the bottom of the social pyramid.

We can’t help but root for these relatable underdogs and laugh at their unapologetic cringiness. Compared to what we normally see—nerdy straight guys stealing hot girls from brainless jocks—the film adds complexity through female characters with fluid sexualities.

All this is helped by the filmmakers’ use of a female gaze. In its most visual expression, costumes by Eunice Jera Lee offer different ways for a woman to dress “attractively”: The nonchalant PJ wears suspenders that make her “look like a Dutch boy” while Josie dons signature overalls. The expressionless Brittany wears black leather shorts and fishnet stockings, while the ultra-feminine Isabel can be found in flowy floral mini-dresses. Everyone appears full of life in their own unique ways, showcasing the variety of ways a woman can be gorgeous.

Despite its delights, the film does not shy away from the gloomy fact that women are susceptible to omnipresent sexual violence. Seligman and Sennott weave these heavy subjects into girls’ daily conversations. They casually bring up their stalkers, their perverted stepfather, and men’s refusal to ask for consent. We find the girls’ blasé tone bizarrely funny when they discuss these horrors, the film using a strong sense of irony to remind us these issues are no laughing matter at all.

Race: 4/5

The Bear’s breakout star Edebiri—born in Boston to parents from Barbados and Nigeria—shines bright in her leading role as an adorably stressed-out teen. Another Black actor, Fowler, steals the show whenever he pops up. Seligman and Sennott never focus on their race, choosing instead to give them captivating roles to work with.

Compared to PJ who is self-centered but charming, Josie gets the meatier role with more depth, empathy, and potential for leadership. For example, when PJ tries to put down their mutual friend by saying hurtful things, Josie mediates their conflict. When Isabel and Brittany realize the fight club is founded on deceptions and close it down, Josie shows genuine remorse while PJ places blame on Josie. And when the school is under the threat of a serial killer, Josie organizes the girls to fight back in the film’s climax. Through these ups and downs, Edebiri perfectly delivers a wide range of emotions.

In his debut feature performance, Fowler’s cunning portrayal of Tim enables the character to stand out from the rest of the football team. He strikes comedy gold when breaking out of “high school jock” norms, such as acting like a protective parent to manchild Jeff. While their dysfunctional bond serves as a running joke, it’s accompanied by an undercurrent of lament for the boys’ incapability of expressing healthy love towards each other.

Bonus for LGBTQ: +1.00

With Seligman behind the camera as an openly queer filmmaker, Bottoms takes full advantage of the chaotic fun found in the sex comedy genre to show how teens today experiment with gender and dating. A timely reflection of Gen Z’s wide normalization of queerness, the film avoids the cliche of reducing its characters to their sexualities alone, but rather, lets their attractions flow naturally.

Mediaversity Grade: A- 4.67/5

While Bottoms features a diverse cast with Black and queer main characters, it stays light on topics of identity, focusing instead on the blood, sweat, and tears of their hormonal adolescence. Each character is just another fallible human being in this collection of high school Americana, making it a quintessential modern comedy defined by kitschy catharsis.

Like Bottoms? Try these other titles featuring high school hijinks.

Bottoms — Mediaversity Reviews (2024)


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