Film Review: “Bottoms” — A Surreal High School Lesbian Sex Farce

By Sarah Osman

The horndog plot of this wild comedy: two unpopular queer high school students start a fight club to have sex before graduation.

Bottoms, directed by Emma Seligman. At AMC Assembly Row and Kendall Cinema.

A scene from Bottoms.

The premise for Bottoms sounds ridiculous: two lesbian teenagers are on a mission to get laid. They have their eyes set on two popular cheerleaders. So how are they going to seduce them? By starting up a fight club for girls.

And yet, this absurd idea for a sex farce works. Bottoms is delightfully weird, to the point that it is one of the cleverest teen comedies to come along in a while. Directed by Emma Seligman and co-written by Seligman and Rachel Sennot (the pair behind the oddball dramedy Shiva Baby), Bottoms follows slackers PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri). They are low down in the high school hierarchy. Not because of their sexuality (a welcome change), but because they’re inert — they don’t really do anything. After a series of misunderstandings, rumors spread that both PJ and Josie spent time in juvie. Realizing that they can use this fake news to get closer to their crushes — especially after a recent assault — the pair start a female fight club. It’s neither as violent as the other fight club (which we’re not supposed to talk about, excuse me) or the well-organized self defense club it is promoted to be.

Part of what makes Bottoms work is how off-kilter it is. It is never clear where this high school is located or why the institution of learning is so obsessed with football. The obsession with football inspires some of the film’s best satire: the entire community acts as though if the school team doesn’t triumph an apocalypse will follow. Strangely, social media isn’t present, but flip phones and Discmans are. It’s rare for a teen comedy to be this opaque, but the strange setting supports the even stranger characters and plot. Bottoms‘ surreal universe is akin to the distorted, sadistic realities found in Heathers and Strangers with Candy.

And its jokes are just as flagrantly outré. At times, Bottoms turns unbelievably violent, especially in its blood-soaked conclusion. The ladies training in this high school fight club don’t just slap one another – they pummel each other. It is a way they can vent their anger in a safe space, outside of social restrictions. That said, Bottoms is at its least satisfying when it tries to make a statement about feminism and toxic masculinity. Thankfully, these scenes are overshadowed by the dominant anarchistic mode.

Edebiri and Sennott have a natural chemistry with each other, so their bond as contrasting besties is believable. Josie is shy and unsure of herself; PJ presents herself as an overconfident lothario, but she has no idea what she’s doing. The supporting players are equally amusing, especially their clueless teacher, played by none other than Marshawn Lynch, who agrees to serve as the supervisor for the pair’s fight club.

Bottoms has the potential to become a cult classic, and hopefully it will win that status. The world today has become so insane, why shouldn’t comedy reflect our bottoms-up reality?

Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman

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