Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"There may be other movies this year that'll give you the wisdom of "gay Yoda" or that reflect the slippery "hobbies to terrorism" pipeline. There won't be many with public address announcements that blur the lines between unreliable narration and inner ear disorders"

Raucous if not reckless, Bottoms is at once earnest and obscene, well constructed in its crudity and often laugh out loud funny. It's a high school-set coming of age queer comedy which sounds like a narrow overlap but it's in the same tradition as Superbad, Anchorman, Fight Club and the Art of Self-Defense.

That might seem an incredibly specific and messy confluence of ideas, but even at my remove from adolescence that seems, still, apposite. Directed by Emma Seligman and co-written with Rachel Sennot it reunites them in something potentially more approachable than the sterling Shiva Baby. Editor Hanna Park and cinematographer Maria Rusche both return too, and while Sennott is on-screen in both she's the only one returning in front of the camera.

In a huge and diverse cast the most common trait is quality. Sennott as PJ and her best friend Josie (Ayo Edebiri) might go through relatively conventional steps for a buddy or high-school movie but the steps they take along the way are far more frenetic than potentially pedestrian plotting. With the help of pal Hazel (Ruby Cruz) they set up a self defense class with the intent of seducing the gorgeous Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and her willowy wingwoman Brittany (Kaia Gerber). They're cheerleaders, true, but they're also people. That's not necessarily true for the school's football team.

Not since The Faculty have the lines between the inhuman and the institutionalised been as finely drawn, but here the snatching is differently of the body. Quarterback Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine) is potentially a testament to the importance of head injury assessments, while Tim (Miles Fowler) manages a cattiness and conspiratoriality that in almost any other film would be achieved by a stock character like "team captain's cheerleader girlfriend". That's not to say he isn't. These things are complicated.

I mention Anchorman as Bottoms is in the tradition of semi-improvised comedy. Super Bowl winner Marshawn Lynch appears as teacher and club sponsor Mr. G and he's clearly as capable of comedy as he is of scoring touchdowns. His delivery is enhanced by some excellent work from the art departments, seeing this in a cinema gave me the chance to spot a number of excellent jokes on chalkboards and to spy the Matt Drudge column in the pages of "Divorced & Happy". That similarity to Anchorman might also be the dividing line for many, there's the same glee and somewhat of the same gore. There's also plenty of entertaining out-takes over the credits. Though significantly less realistic than, say, Girlfight that doesn't mean the emotions are false.

If anything, it's Bottoms' similarity to other high school films and buddy movies that does it a disservice. There's a whole series of questions about accessibility and representation that it's unfair to ask of any one film. I happened to see this on the same day as I saw The Marvels, and while they're wildly different in budget and scope. Secondhand allusions in draft scripts ostensibly counting as a queer presence in one cannot compete with plot arcs that are reliant on young lesbians and their love interests and their potential lack of reciprocity. That's even with Valkyrie being involved in a way that gives you the opportunity to make a joke reliant on rainbow bridges and bi-frost. It'd be easy and trite to compare them because they've got largely female casts and are built around three young women fighting (together). It hasn't stopped me, let's be clear, because sometimes there's a comfort in the easy and trite.

That's probably where Bottoms' reliance on convention is most necessary, however much I might lament it. There's only so much discomfort it's reasonable to expect an audience to bear, and they're going to have to deal with "period" as a verb (obscene) and a level of sports-based sociopathy that suggests the Friday Night Lights are being operated by an interrogator. There's a moment of regret in an argument that I regretted because it felt unearned, a basic beat I'll bitch about in a work that's got plenty of basic bitch beatings.

There may be other movies this year that'll give you the wisdom of "gay Yoda" or that reflect the slippery "hobbies to terrorism" pipeline. There won't be many with public address announcements that blur the lines between unreliable narration and inner ear disorders, though Beau Is Afraid and Dream Scenario might come close. I shan't attempt to keep track of which wave of feminism we're exploring but it's surfing the same territory as Zola and Spring Breakers. One always hesitates to forecast something as a cult classic, but it's often possible to identify films that will speak to some audiences with a clarity that isn't just because it's the first fiction they've seen that they see themselves in. Bottoms is as intense as a hoof in the works, and, perhaps especially as an outsider, as funny.

Reviewed on: 25 Nov 2023
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Bottoms packshot
Two unpopular girls in their senior year start a fight club to try to impress and hook up with cheerleaders.
Amazon link

Director: Emma Seligman

Writer: Emma Seligman, Rachel Sennott

Starring: Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Ruby Cruz, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Miles Fowler, Marshawn Lynch, Dagmara Dominiczyk, Punkie Johnson

Year: 2023

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: US

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