Bottoms – 45%
Reviewer ranking: 1412/2568
Bottoms is a movie with an absolutely bonkers premise. Two lesbian high schoolers want to hook up with two of the popular hot cheerleaders and devise a plan to start a high school fight club to lure them in with the promise of female empowerment. The apparent reason for the need to defend themselves is that a rival high school’s players are attacking female members of the high school and beating them up (not that this is seen even once). As one quickly discovers, Bottoms exists in some adjacent universe where absurd violence is permissible and accepted, so there’s no thought of getting the police involved.
Bottoms is a bit of a tonal mess. It pivots back and forth between wanting to have an affecting friendship between its two lead characters (best friends since elementary school), romantic relationships, commentary on feminism and female solidarity, and crazy, over-the-top antics. While director Emma Seligman does her best to balance these tones, and there are plenty of funny moments throughout, Bottoms fails to find a consistent center for the film, resulting in wild tonal whiplash.
This is a film where a high school male athlete attacks a female member of the fight club during a pep rally and beats the crap out of her. The fight culminates in the male kicking her across the face while she is prone on the ground as a sort of finishing move. This also kicks off the end of the second act, where our protagonists have been outed as lying about certain things and everything is in decline. Do the teachers, administration, or security of this school care or do anything about this? Absolutely not. Without giving too much away, several people end up violently murdered, a development that is both ignored and celebrated within the logic of the film.
To some extent this is a nostalgic nod to 80s sex comedies. The titles and other lettering all use a heavy metal-inspired font, and the movie embraces the same degree of absurdity that a Zucker and Abrams or Harold Ramis film might. While those films are mixed bags in some respects, they did have the good sense to stay consistent with their tone. They were absurd and remained absurd throughout, not asking the audience for emotional investment or ever leading one to believe there were real people or situations involved.
That is not the case with Bottoms, which tries to make us care about the inner workings of the relationships of the two leads, PJ and Josie, and the women they pursue. While this approach tries to add a bit more depth to an otherwise simple comedy and make it “about” something, it simply doesn’t work with the ridiculous in-universe occurrences. One feels adrift in the 96-minute film that leaves you confused on how to feel from scene to scene.
Bottoms is not a disaster per se. Many scenes work well in and of themselves. Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri are pretty good actresses, even if the film has a tendency to follow the modern trend of using semi-sarcastic rambling as a substitute for humor. When it works, it works, as in an early scene where Edebiri’s Josie goes on and on about how skinny her crush is. The film’s flippant approach to graphic violence also results in several laugh-out-loud moments where the high school women are literally beating the crap out of each other. It’s not something you’re used to seeing, and it feels like it’s pushing a boundary of some kind. Former NFL player Marshawn Lynch appears in a small role as the teacher sponsor of the fight club, but while the script hands him some funny-ish moments where he comments on female issues, Lynch is unfortunately from the negative side of celebrity stunt casting and lacks any real sense of comedic timing. There’s certainly worse out there, but Lynch does not seem bound for a Hollywood career.
One wishes Bottoms were better. It has the potential to be a really great film, but the director and writer and editor all needed to get it to a place that felt more consistent. It either needed to try to stay more grounded, or, alternatively, eschew attempts at seriousness and lean even more heavily into outright farce. The middle ground it tries to strike renders Bottoms a muddled work and not as satisfying as one hopes.