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“Bottoms” tops the teen comedy genre

Emma Seligman’s new film couldn’t be freakier or funnier

Seligman touches on understandings of gender roles and sexuality, our cultural obsession with violence and the meaninglessness of careless nods to social issues motivated by self-interest.
Seligman touches on understandings of gender roles and sexuality, our cultural obsession with violence and the meaninglessness of careless nods to social issues motivated by self-interest.

Emma Seligman’s “Bottoms” hit theaters Aug. 25, instantly redefining the teen sex comedy for a new generation. 

Best friends PJ, played by Rachel Sennott, and Josie, played by Ayo Edebiri, begin their senior year of high school as lesbian losers hoping to make moves on their cheerleader crushes — Isabel, played by Havana Rose Liu, and Brittany, played by Kaia Gerber — before going off to college. 

Responding to a misreported conflict with star quarterback Jeff, played by Nicholas Galitzine, PJ and Josie discover an opportunity to get closer to the objects of their interest. The pair decide to form a female fight club, pretending to help the girls at their high school defend themselves while sidelining sisterhood in favor of showing off in front of the cheerleaders. 

Seligman’s American high school is a hyper-masculine place where everyone is obsessed with football, sex and violence. A poster advertising an upcoming game encourages students to “get horny,” a local athletic rivalry incites bloodlust and the teacher monitoring PJ and Josie’s club is comfortable letting students punch each other in the face. 

These masculine signifiers are cleverly flipped on their heads. Jeff is whiny and girly and objectified by his peers despite his strength, skill and popularity, and Seligman transposes the homoerotic violence often reserved for men in movies onto a group of young women. 

Seligman and Sennott — who collaborated on Seligman’s first feature, “Shiva Baby,” released in 2021 — co-wrote the screenplay. Their hysterical dialogue is bolstered by strong performances from each perfectly-cast actor, especially Marshawn Lynch as Mr. G, the club’s inept and inappropriate faculty advisor, and Nicholas Galitzine.

Stars Sennott and Edebiri carry the film confidently, with PJ as the driving force behind the club and Josie reluctantly caving to her questionable plan. Seligman’s leads stand out as rare antiheroines — they’re thoughtless and selfish, oscillating from lovable losers to despicable manipulators and back from scene to scene, remaining relentlessly funny throughout. 

“Bottoms” isn’t aiming for verisimilitude, at least not on the surface. The plot is improbable and over-the-top — PJ and Josie’s club probably wouldn’t fly anywhere outside of Seligman’s universe. Still, her sly observations on American adolescence feel true. She touches on understandings of gender roles and sexuality, our cultural obsession with violence and the meaninglessness of careless nods to social issues motivated by self-interest. 

The efforts of the creative team serve as a perfect complement to Seligman and Sennott’s screenplay. Nate Jones’s production design expertly underlines the film’s themes, especially memorable in an image of Jeff receiving a heavenly touch in a reimagining of “The Creation of Adam” on display in the school cafeteria. The soundtrack includes a few teen movie staples — there’s an Avril Lavigne needle drop — plus an original score and songs by Charli XCX and Leo Birenberg. 

“Bottoms” is visibly inspired by high school comedies that have come before. PJ and Josie resemble the socially stunted boys at the center of “Superbad,” and the film’s bloodiness brings “Heathers” to mind. Still, Seligman and Sennott’s vision — female, campy, queer — stands out and pushes the genre in new and exciting directions. 

The pair offer an entry into the teen comedy genre that is at once comforting in its recognizability and stirring in its obvious understanding of a new and different generation of adolescents. “Bottoms'' is smart, it’s fresh, and, most importantly, it’s super, super funny. 

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