This article includes brief mentions of stalking and sexual abuse.
The high school buddy comedy is an art thought to be lost to time. Modern classics like “Booksmart” and “Superbad” may have set high standards for the genre, but “Bottoms” both pays homage to and supersedes these staples of satire.
The film can only be described as the gayest, raunchiest, most nonsensically brilliant high school comedy ever made. Its campy extravagance won many hearts within the first five minutes and should continue to do so for years to come. This infinitely rewatchable, star-studded feature beats “Superbad” to a bloody pulp in the fight for high-school satire supremacy — with an expert take on tried and true archetypes.
The film centers Josie (Ayo Edebiri, “The Bear”) and PJ (Rachel Sennott, “Shiva Baby”), two self-proclaimed “loser lesbians” desperate to overcome their status as “gay, untalented and ugly” by losing their virginities to the hottest girls in school. After leaning into a false rumor that they spent the summer in juvie, they seize the opportunity and use their newfound street cred to start a fight club in order to get close to their crushes. Girls at their school are scared of increasing violence in town, so PJ spearheads the campaign to get the girls’ adrenaline flowing by teaching them to defend themselves and hoping they’ll be grateful enough to fall in love with herself and Josie. This ill-conceived plan only works thanks to the help of PJ and Josie’s marginally less-cool McLovin’-coded friend Hazel (Ruby Cruz, “Willow”), who actually knows how to fight and genuinely cares about female solidarity.
On an ethical scale, PJ is chaotic evil, Hazel is lawful good and Josie is sprinting laps from one end to the other. This dynamic plays out on screen excellently, where PJ acts as the ring leader and Josie as the reluctant accomplice.
Watching the three girls interact as best friends who are truly comfortable with one another is not only hilarious but heartwarming. Every line they speak to each other is both relatable and nonsensical.
Their tone is so campy that it leaps through the screen. In one scene, Edebiri improvises a long tangent about how her entire life is over and she might as well marry their gay male classmate and live a life of misery, all because she struck out with her crush, Isabel (Havana Rose Liu, “Mayday”). This brilliant catastrophizing feels ripped out of a weekly conversation I have with my friends. Seeing it on screen felt unbelievably validating.
These protagonists are not afraid to say what they’re thinking, even when they shouldn’t. PJ’s lack of self-awareness makes her blurt out anything that comes to her mind. Upon seeing the lineup of girls at the first fight club meeting, she loudly announces that “these girls are ugly.” Her lack of a filter follows her throughout the film and makes for endless laughs as she says what should be quiet words out loud. Luckily, the club takes off, so PJ and Josie’s crushes, Isabel and Brittany (Kaia Gerber, “Babylon”) join and get closer to their admirers.
The film’s absurdity operates on a cellular level, acting as the foundation that brings it to life. It is ridiculous fun in every frame. The most prominent example is the treatment of star quarterback (and Isabel’s toxic boyfriend) Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine, “Red, White & Royal Blue”). The entire school falls at his feet, including the eternally uniformed (and especially Jeff-obsessed) football team, to the point that murals of him as Adam in Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” adorn the cafeteria. He’s basically the school’s Jesus, which the film leans into with a “Last Supper”-esque lunch table arrangement where he is at the center.
The script barrels directly into crazes, satirizing high school social hierarchy with flamboyant grace. When the bell rings two minutes after all the students file in, PJ shouts, “That’s it? That’s class?” It’s such a simple joke, yet so elegant; the film never fails to stick the landing.
The movie’s extravagance doesn’t stop at the script. The costume design is impeccably accurate for many subcultures. PJ’s oversized, striped sweaters and overalls fit the stereotypical Queer wardrobe. The cheerleaders’ matching hyper-feminine pastel dresses poke fun at stereotypical depictions and the football team’s inability to take off their uniforms mocks their need to assert dominance. The cinematography accentuates these personalities and tropes. The camera’s slow-motion zooms on lovesick characters set the tone for a cinematic love story to come. The anxious, handheld shots in tense moments drive up the scenes’ drama.
The bubblegum pop soundtrack is the cherry on top, maintaining an overall tone of unapologetic amusement. It works especially well in fight montages, contrasting angry violence with lighthearted sounds.
While most of the runtime is spent cracking clever jokes, the film’s core is the solidarity that the fight club girls find in one another. In one scene, the girls share their personal experiences with assault and every single girl has a violation to share, from stalking to sexual abuse. This is the real reason most of them wanted to learn to fight. Despite PJ and Josie’s selfish intentions, their club became a place for young women to come together and support each other. The tenderness of this moment, however, quickly falls as Josie tells a traumatic, made-up story about the “Hunger Games”-style fights she definitely had in juvie. Somehow, the shift is executed naturally and moves Josie and Isabel’s relationship forward when Isabel believes her stories of valor. Though this easily could have given the audience tonal whiplash, it manages to be heartwarming.
Josie and Isabel’s relationship evolves as they fight together, vandalize Jeff’s house together and even begin to hang out one-on-one. Isabel’s genuine admiration for Josie’s fake heroism is endearing, especially because Josie admires Isabel for just existing. As they grow closer, they begin a very sweet romance that makes all of Josie’s trouble putting together the fight club worth it to her. When the truth comes out, Isabel is upset about the circumstances that brought them together. PJ’s exposure turns Hazel and the rest of the club against her as well.
But when all hope is lost for our two leads, they are forced to champion their redemption and win back the hearts of the school.
This is the fun, lighthearted story the Queer community has been asking for. It is rare for a Sapphic romance to deviate from the typical coming-out trope or the forbidden period piece where the leads are doomed from the get-go. Those stories have value, but they cannot be the only representation of Queer women on screen. Films that showcase a gang of silly, flawed characters who can have a happy ending without suffering untenable trauma are necessary representations.
“Bottoms” celebrates Queerness and brings a long-awaited wish fulfillment for older audiences who missed out on experiences of first love in their own youth. It affirms that Queer, female-led stories are just as valuable as their male-led counterparts and that their audiences deserve to find joy by seeing themselves represented in media. It’s an achievement to be celebrated, emulated and seen on the big screen as many times as possible.
Daily Arts Writer Mina Tobya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.