‘Bottoms’ Review: A Gonzo Gay ‘Fight Club’ Meets ‘Heathers’ News-thread


In “Bottoms,” a high school comedy that’s unabashedly gonzo, outrageous, and sometimes even insanely over-the-top — and actually about something — PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edibiri) have been best friends since first grade, but in their senior year at Rock Ridge High they are at the end of their career. They’re losers, they’re lonely, they’re lesbians, and in their eyes, that puts them below the bottom of the food chain. So they do what anyone in their position could do. They decide to form a fight club!

It’s inspired (sort of) by Fight Club, though the movie isn’t particularly interested in that movie, where the characters engaged in bare-knuckle fights of a sort of serious macho romantic doomsday nihilism. In “Bottoms,” PJ and Josie, in the time-honored tradition of teen movie leads looking to lose their virginity, are just looking for a way to sleep with the cheerleaders they have crushes on. They build the club around a slanderous and rather ridiculous lie: that they have both spent time on “juvie”. Sitting in the gym, with a handful of “normal” girls who have been forced to join the club, they all share stories about the men they have had to defend themselves against (stalkers, kinky stepdads, you name it). And when they get to the fight club part, letting out their aggression, the punches are surprisingly violent. We laugh, but we also think: What is happening here?

What happens is that the film is getting drunk. Jokes don’t just sting, they hurt. “Bottoms” is unlike any high school comedy you’ve ever seen. It is a satire on victimization, a satire on violence, and a satire on himself. It walks a tightrope between sensibility and crazy (with a little crazy), and it’s full of moments that are defiantly what we used to call wrong.

PJ and Josie walk over to their lockers, which have been spray-painted with numbered scurrilous epithets, and Josie says, “What, I got Fagot #1 this time?” There are jokes about bulimia, rape, suicide and blowing up the school. Some of the antagonists are the Vikings, the high school football team, who never stop wearing their uniforms and function as a deranged parody of the patriarchy – think John Hughes villains played by the Ridiculous Theatrical Company. When Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), the most scurvy of them and the boyfriend of Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), for whom Josie has feelings, is caught sleeping with the mother of Hazel (Ruby Cruz), a member of the fight club, the girls They visit his house to take revenge. As “Total Eclipse of the Heart” plays out on the soundtrack (Jeff listens to it on his headphones, convinced like the thug that he is that he’s a sensitive guy), Hazel plants a bomb in his car and it explodes for real. good.

“Bottoms” at times evokes the barbed-wire field of “But I’m a Cheerleader” crossed with the outrageous misanthropy of “Heathers.” Unlike those movies, though, this one has a mocking humanity that sneaks up on you. Fight club, spoofing, revenge: PJ and Josie have thrown it all away because their lives don’t seem real to them. They need to punch their way to be seen. This is the second feature directed by Emma Seligman, whose first film, “Shiva Baby” (2021), was a critical favorite, even though I found it both over-the-top and unconvincing. “Bottoms” is a bolder, more confident work, partly because Seligman has left realism behind. She has made a vicious gambling comedy that is at once confessional and surreal. It feels like a quintessential SXSW movie, and at its premiere last night it went big.

In the outside world, it can prove to be a more challenging breed of talking point than wild dogs. Yet Seligman, who penned the lurid script with its lead actor, Rachel Sennott (“Shiva Baby” star and “Bodies Bodies Bodies” co-star), has something in mind: how those who have been forced to to see themselves as strangers they project their alienation onto everything around them.

Seligman is also projecting. She inflates the high school experience like a toxic balloon. The scenes with the students and her teacher, Mr. G., caught between her empathy and her rage against feminism, are amazingly funny; former NFL star Marshawn Lynch plays him with a mercurial conviction that he keeps delivering. And PJ and Josie aren’t just friends with different flavors. They represent a radically different approach to combating prejudice: PJ, the flippant and ruthless leader, content to use her wits as a means of destruction, and Josie, the more insecure and outspoken. Her courtship of Isabel begins with breaking down Isabel’s wall of conventionality, and Ayo Edibiri makes us feel every shiver of Josie’s desire to connect.

PJ, by contrast, has set his sights on Brittany (Kaia Gerber), who has an eating disorder and is convinced she’s straight. We think so is she, even though the movie is about how the rigidity of high school society cuts through experimentation. The fight club is supposed to be a self-defense cult, but what it really does is beat the orthodoxies out of the students.

“Bottoms” is the rare high school comedy that could be called a ride. The film’s caustic relentlessness, which takes more than a little getting used to (this isn’t her big sister’s heartfelt fable), might have been too much if the film weren’t also a journey. It flips the bird not only on men but also on feminism. “Who is Bell Hooks and why should we care?” says a character. There’s a strange joy at work, though, in the way that Seligman tears down the very universe of high school comedy only to rebuild it back into an aggression comic that does nothing less than remake the social order. The big game at the end is a triumphant sequence, as stylized as a musical. “Bottoms” won’t be for everyone, but it’s an outrageously forward-thinking film of talent.


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