SXSW Film Review: Bottoms
Seligman and Sennot re-team for a wicked lesbian John Hughes riff
By Lina Fisher,
10:30AM, Sun. Mar. 12, 2023
It’s not an understatement to say that Bottoms may go down in cinema history right alongside its favorite influences – Superbad, But I’m A Cheerleader, American Pie. I don’t even want to write about it because this movie elicits a pre-, no, post-verbal joy in its pure ridonkulousness. What a wild ride.
Man, Emma Seligman just gets it. The teen experience, the teen gay experience, the gross and shameful and liberating catharsis of bloodlust and extremely silly horniness. In an increasingly bland last few years of sanitized, touchy-feely queer teen movies, Seligman gives us one with some actual punch. Rachel Sennott as P.J., fast becoming Seligman’s muse and collaborator (co-writer on this) would steal the show with her predictably dazzling, commanding presence, if it weren’t for the equally snort-inducing, wry Ayo Edebiri as Josie, the more measured of the two BFFs. P.J. and Josie are on the same quest that Seth and Evan are in Superbad – get some cooch before high school ends. It’s difficult – people hate them not because they’re gay, but because they’re “gay, ugly, and untalented.” When a lie about them spending time in juvie goes too far, they decide to capitalize on the cred and start a fight club to teach girls self defense, and hopefully make out with them.
The rest of the cast not only keeps up, but each is memorably weird in their own way – we’ve got concerningly emotional tweaker girl, openly freaky religious girl, bomb-obsessed sidekick, pansexual cheerleader, supportive deadbeat teacher and club sponsor, and of course, Jeff, boyfriend of Josie’s love interest Isabel, and the fruitiest football star to ever vibe to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” while his house gets egged by a bunch of gay losers. Like Freaks and Geeks, the ensemble doesn’t have a weak link. The villainous football players are hilarious, playing up the queer undertones of sports hero worship and fragile masculinity.
What sets Bottoms apart from its predecessors in buddy comedy is its camp, which is closer to But I’m A Cheerleader: It doesn’t bother with subtly ragging on behaviors of teen males, it fully overplays them, characters commenting on their own archetypes, but never in a pedantic way. The more serious notes underpinning the script, nods to the darker side of being a teen girl, are neither dwelled on nor brushed off – they’re just presented as a part of life, as much as wanting to bone a hot cheerleader. Not to overcomplicate, but I do think there’s an aspect of the abject feminine here, which has recently been explored more in horror where girls are allowed to be evil and disturbed; here, they’re disturbed like the horndogs of John Hughes movies, like an older version of Pen15.
P.J. and Josie of course have a fall from grace where all the lies come crashing down and the cheerleaders hate them, but just as you might think the classic hijinks are getting a tad predictable, the finale explodes in a truly epic sequence of surreal slapstick violence, complete with Scott Pilgrim slo-mo.
During the film's world premiere at South by Southwest last night, the Paramount was engulfed in belly laughs throughout almost the entirety of the film, at points making it hard to hear. My face hurt from smiling so hard at the end. I could say Bottoms shines because it nods to nostalgia but feels totally of our time, or expertly inhabits the buddy comedy genre formula while providing its own absurdist twist – but most importantly, it is simply, joyfully, ridonkulous.
Headliners, World PremiereWed 15, 9:15pm, ZACH Theatre
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SXSW 2023, SXSW Film 2023, Bottoms