Bottoms ends with a blooper reel. As the credits roll, variations on some of the best jokes in the film play alongside the names of the production team. The cast members break character and laugh at themselves as their names appear on the screen and the audience stays planted in their seats, unwilling to exit the absurd, violent, hilarious unreality they just witnessed.
Like many viewers walking into Bottoms, all I knew of Emma Seligman’s sophomore feature was its internet-diffused pitch—“It’s a lesbian high school Fight Club!” Upon my exit from the theater, I couldn’t help but think that this may be the first time social media film criticism has produced a correct review.
Bottoms is a high school movie about lesbians who make a fight club. That’s it. The pitch is the film, essentially: best friends since elementary school, the “untalented gays,” Josie (The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri in perfect form) and PJ (played by Rachel Sennott, star of Seligman’s first feature, Shiva Baby) enter their senior year desperate to lose their virginity. Under the threat of violence from their school’s rival football team, the pair start a “female empowerment” fight club as a way of getting with some cheerleaders. From there, chaos ensues as the protagonists realize they’re in over their heads (bombs! battles! allergy attacks!). The film thrives on the back of this convoluted—and deeply stupid—premise.
The whole film feels like a fever dream. As Sarah Shachat of Indiewire writes, Bottoms “exists as a kind of platonic ideal of high school: Everyone is weird and horny and the teachers don’t know what’s going on and the world seems to revolve around football players.” The ensemble of young actors, led by Sennot, Edebiri, and Nicholas Galitzine (of Red, White & Royal Blue) give a series of tonally precise performances, each delivering their own, loud, extreme version of some high school stereotype. The film’s strengths go beyond the cast: quick-witted writing, too many jokes to possibly keep track of, the flipping-of and leaning-into tropes of high school narratives, and the affectionate satire of every flavour of gayness all help make it wildly entertaining. All of these feel ancillary to the core goal of the film: to create the most honest (and therefore least sincere) depiction of high school.
In other contexts, this lack of heart may cause viewers to become uninterested and unable to grasp any emotional power. Yet, Seligman’s writing and direction lends such a confidence to its insincerity that we can’t help but fall into a world of extremes where only sex and football matter. The point isn’t for characters to break through stereotypes, or discover the meaning of friendship, or really learn anything of substance at all—they just make decisions in a world they don’t understand and experience the consequences. So, when the credits roll and the cast laugh at themselves, Seligman seems to want their audience to do the same, to laugh at ourselves for getting so much glee out of a piece of entertainment so devoid of meaning.