Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott’s “Bottoms” is a mess. It’s the best kind of mess. It’s funny, it’s a little bloody, it’s very gay, but most importantly, it’s a good time. Of course, you’ve probably seen the words “real cinema is back” thrown around somewhere on Twitter in the last couple of years — every time a moderately iconic movie comes out. With this movie, it’s as apt as it gets.
To put it simply, “Bottoms” is about two lesbian high schoolers, PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), who are best friends and also complete losers. Everyone hates them. Not because they’re gay, but because they’re just that unlikeable. The school announcements quite literally refer to them as “the ugly, untalented gays,” so that’s saying something. They’ve had crushes on two of the most popular cheerleaders (Kaia Gerber and Havana Rose Liu) at their school for years but have never spoken to them. Your typical movie events ensue and all of a sudden, the girls are starting a fight club because “there’s a serious lack of female solidarity” at their school.
Well … no, they’re doing it to get into the cheerleaders’ pants.
Our main characters are not your ideal people. They’re mean, shallow, selfish and downright unlikeable. The thing is, though, Hollywood has seen these types of main characters before. Take Superbad, for example — two boys on a mission to lose their virginity before high school ends. It’s not entirely new. What it’s new to is queer cinema.
When comparing our two leads, PJ comes off as especially terrible. She forces Josie into this scheme of lying and cheating their way into hooking up with the girls they like, she’s constantly objectifying most women around her, including her crush and she’s downright mean and demeaning to Hazel, played by Ruby Cruz. Josie’s a lot more passive, she does what PJ does and is overall just your average, socially awkward loser in school.
Still, the movie treats them as people. Terrible people, for sure, but people. Their queerness is simultaneously the focus and not. It doesn’t become an impairment or their downfall. They’re not pressed against a wall, sobbing about being gay and having unrequited crushes or not being out.
In an interview, director Emma Seligman talked about wanting a less sanitized version of queer stories. “Everyone should be allowed to see themselves onscreen in their most selfish, shallow forms, and teenagers are often the most selfish and shallow out of every age group. They’re also the most honest and ambitious and hormonal.”
“Bottoms” is definitely … out there. Its humor might not be for everybody, but if it lands for you, then it lands. It’s not afraid to be raw and messy and real. It’s a little dark and often quite raunchy. It’s also not afraid to deal with topics that can be more serious — and of course, when you’re a movie with a mostly female cast and writer-director team, the big F is bound to come up somewhere. If not in the movie itself, then in interviews with the cast.
“Bottoms” doesn’t skirt around the idea of addressing feminist topics and does it with respect, managing to deliver them with the best comedic bits and often improvised scenes Hollywood has seen in a while. Even the sound beats in the movie were filled with irony and comedy. The third act conflict literally begins with Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” blaring in the background.
One of the most unexpected, but very welcome and notable additions to the movie was the former NFL running back and Super Bowl champion, Marshawn Lynch, as the fight club’s coordinator. In another interview with NPR, Seligman said, “I think he was really confused as to why we thought he’d be perfect in this movie in particular, but he ended up being so good in it. He’s one of the best improvisers I’ve ever seen at work, and most of – not most of, but I’d say about half of his dialogue is improvised.”
What is camp, exactly? It’s a word that’s been thrown around quite a bit, attempting to use it to define a whole array of things. A style and sensibility lifted from Black culture, Camp entered the mainstream conversation with Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp.” Even the MET Gala had its 2019 camp-inspired theme of the same name. What “Bottoms” does is embrace its campiness, while giving us a definition of what that means in film and TV.
Everything’s over the top, but just the right amount. The humor, the line delivery, the cinematography — you’re not supposed to take it completely seriously and it’s all the better if you don’t. Nicholas Gatzline, who plays the school’s resident popular jock, does a particularly good job of campy line delivery. The role is unexpected for him but also completely fits the actor and he brings to the table some of the most quotable lines of dialogue in the movie.
The third act (don’t worry, we’re not spoiling anything) is arguably where the absurdity and campiness of the movie come full circle and really make their mark. Absurdist cinema has been being made for the longest time but has seen itself dwindling in recent times. VALLEY can confidently say that with “Bottoms,” Seligman and Sennott completely embrace the movie’s absurd identity. Hollywood has been waiting for this for a long time. Absurdist cinema is back. Camp is back. Real cinema is back.
“Bottoms” is currently playing in select cinemas and will hit streaming services on September 22nd!
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