In a drowning sea of recent blockbuster failures, the sexually-driven independent feature film “Bottoms” rises to the top.
“Bottoms” is the sophomore feature of Canadian director Emma Silegman, who rose to prominence after the critical success of her debut masterpiece “Shiva Baby” in 2020. Fortunately, Silegman manages to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump with an over-the-top erotic sex comedy — already a critical success with strong box office numbers, according to Deadline.
The premise of the film starts relatively simple. Josie (Ayo Edebiri) and PJ (Rachel Sennott, who reunited with Silegman after leading in “Shiva Baby”) are two openly lesbian high schoolers who discuss their plans to lose their virginities to their crushes at the night’s carnival. After reuniting with their friend Hazel (Ruby Cruz) at the carnival, PJ and Josie attempt to win over their crushes, two Rockbridge Falls High School cheerleaders, Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber).
After sparking the vengeance of the Rockbridge Falls High football team, Josie and PJ are forced to devise a plan to escape from suspension. Thinking quickly on their feet, the two create the ultimate lie and, in turn, create a women’s fight club under the false premise of self-defense and female solidarity (thanks, Hazel). Unbeknownst to the club’s participants, PJ and Josie’s true intentions are to win the love of their crushes and lose their virginities.
“Bottoms” was made with Generation Z in mind and reflective in its development. The soundtrack sees a collaboration between Leo Birenberg’s long repertoire of film and television musical composition and the electropop, experimental pop and hyperpop sounds of Charli XCX. The infused sound pairs well with the film and is coupled with needle-drops of “PAIN” by genderqueer artist King Princess and Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” to emphasize the queer and young demographic the film caters to.
The unabashedly queer, feminist and referential co-written screenplay between Sennott and Silegman also reflects the Gen Z and millennial appeal the duo tapped into. Second-wave feminism, feminists who watch the television series “Entourage” and the assumed juxtaposition of Black Republicans are all satirized in quick jokes that may go over some viewers’ heads. Meanwhile, the two leads are both called homophobic slurs on their lockers and “untalented gays,” all in 10 minutes.
Jokes are also not afraid to catch you off guard in scenes of intense emotion, and both Sennott and Silegman walk the line of a tasteful offensive comedy most recently brought into light with fellow R-rated comedy “No Hard Feelings.” At times, some bits feel more shocking than humorous, while others simply do not land. This is most evident with a minor film subplot, played mostly as a recurring gag that fizzles out as soon as it begins.
The queer nature of the film shines throughout the overtly vulgar “Bottoms.” Right off the bat, PJ and Josie openly discuss their failures in securing the love of their crushes because they are self-described “ugly lesbians.” The scene is crude and overtly sexual and frequently establishes the presence of self-deprecating and awkward humor in the film. Yet, it also establishes the raw chemistry between Sennott and Edebiri, who are longtime friends in real life.
Performance-wise, the two leads are portrayed by two of the newest faces of current Gen-Z culture, and the film provides the duo with ample opportunity to flex their craft. Sennott’s brash yet comedic performance of the often deadpan PJ is reminiscent of her role in the indie horror darling “Bodies, Bodies, Bodies.”
Sennott is fully committed to the role, portraying the character’s journey of jealousy with perfection. While playing a more reserved role, Edebiri’s effortless timing of her subtle physical comedy brings life to an already sympathetic character. However, when Josie begins to blurt out one of her many spontaneous monologues, Edebiri’s true comedic efforts shine.
Outstanding supporting performances also come from the ensemble cast of fresh faces. Former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch plays the straightforward history teacher Mr. G with such ease that it feels like he was born for the role. His ease of stealing scenes is only rivaled by Miles Fowler, who plays the homoerotic and Jeff-obsessed jock Tim in such sadistically golden fashion. Kaia Gerber, who had a poorly received start at acting in the “American Horror Story” series, can shine as the dry, flirtatious Brittany while her frequent scene partner, Havana Rose Liu, brings depth to the love-stricken girlfriend, Isabel.
While also leads and story progressors of their own, the performances of Hazel and Jeff are worth mentioning. Ruby Cruz gives nuance to the ill-fated victim of PJ’s intense jealousy and juggles her character’s unpredictability and sincerity with satisfaction. Despite his character not being as complex, recent “Red, White, & Royal Blue” breakout star Nicholas Galitzine elevates the airheaded jock Jeff from the confines of a one-note bore.
Despite its strong comedic standing, the film ultimately shines in its fight sequences — whether it is montages or a triumphant battle. Silegman’s directing of these initial scenes in the high school is intentional and direct. At times, the camera lingers on the closeness of the two characters fighting on screen, highlighting the sexual tension building between them. At other times, the scenes are full of rough hits and slow-motion descents to the ground, showcasing the sheer brutality of the characters.
Anytime a character is hit, punched or slapped, viewers can hear and witness the effects of each rough connection. Blood is splattered, characters are bruised and swords are even (attempted to be) swung. “Bottoms” is as anarchistic as it is sarcastic, representative of its R rating.
Ultimately, the unabashedly queer nature of “Bottoms” shines throughout its 92-minute runtime. While not all characters work, they are unapologetically themselves. And almost every line of comedy is quick, witty and 10 steps ahead of the viewer even if it does not land.
“Bottoms” is an unafraid and brash comedy that brandishes its rough nature on its sleeves. It is an all-around treat for fans who unknowingly want a satirical feminist, queer fight film that is a tonal departure for Silegman, who miraculously avoided the sophomore slump.
Rating: 4 / 5