‘Bottoms’ is here to redefine the high-school comedy

‘Bottoms’ is here to redefine the high-school comedy | Soho House

And you can watch the movie in our screening rooms at the Houses now

Saturday 4 November 2023   By Hanna Flint

I love high-school comedies. As a millennial, Hollywood certainly made sure of that by spoon feeding us a smorgasbord of memorable, iconic, immensely quotable films set against the backdrop of the school curriculum. Of course, the ones with female leads made the biggest impact: Mean Girls, Clueless, Sugar & Spice, She’s All That, Bring It On and Easy A were a few of my favourites, but they also seem rather quaint in comparison to Emma Seligman’s raucous Bottoms.

I’ve been itching to see what Seligman would serve up after her intensely funny debut, Shiva Baby in 2020. Featuring a star-making turn by Rachel Sennott, as a college student confronted by her sugar daddy and her ex-girlfriend at a Jewish family funeral, it’s a powder keg of a film, simmering with dry humour and a plucky score that builds the nervous tension to a tipping point.

Bottoms couldn’t be more different, but no less daring. Reuniting with Seligman, co-writer Sennott shares top billing with The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri as outcast lesbian best mates, PJ and Josie, who are desperate to get some action before they go to college. The closest comparison to their dynamic might be Jonah Hill’s Seth and Michael Cera’s Evan in Superbad; PJ is the obnoxious assertive one in the friendship, while Josie veers more towards introversion when in the same vicinity as cheerleader Isabel (Havana Rose Liu). Dating the star quarterback, Isabel and her best friend Brittany (Kaia Gerber) are the hottest and most popular girls in school so, in typical high-school comedy fashion, our two awkward leads have mahoosive crushes on them. 

PJ and Josie’s social ineptitude doesn’t quite recommend them as potential paramours for these gorgeous girlies. They might be queer at a time when being part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community is a badge of honour but, unfortunately, their graceless branding has secured limited influence with their peers and the faculty to boot. A perfectly delivered tannoy announcement saying, ‘Could the ugly, untalented gays please report to the principal’s office?‘ helps to cement their outlier status. 

‘Bottoms’ is here to redefine the high-school comedy | Soho House
However, when PJ and Josie accidentally start an extracurricular feminist fight club to get out of trouble with the principal, their high-school clout increases dramatically. They begin to provide highly unqualified, sapphic-infused self-defence training to fellow female students who believe a rumour that they went to juvenile detention over the summer, but once Isabel and Brittany join the mix, PJ and Josie use their lie-based leadership to their romantic advantage.

It’s a similar sort of ridiculous plot set-up as She’s All That’s Pygmalion-inspired bet and Never Been Kissed’s ‘journalist going undercover at a high school’ storyline, but Seligman takes the absurdity up to 11. The over-the-top football team never changes out of their kit and a subplot about a violent rivalry with another school team keeps the eccentric fires burning. And these girls actually beat the sh*t out of each other, come away smiling and are itching for more all in the name of female empowerment. 

Seligman and Sennott infuse the sex comedy parody spirit of Wet Hot American Summer into a rip-roaring cinematic escapade told through a Gen-Z lens to mock therapy speak, romantic tropes, intersectionality and earnest exclamations of love, politics and femininity. I cackled when Isabel says, ‘I really value when people use violence for me, it’s actually one of my love languages,’ and guffawed when Josie tells PJ, ‘You don’t care about feminism. Your favourite show is Entourage!’ 

The line delivery by Sennott and Edebiri is note-perfect; they know exactly how to make a joke land, when to labour a punchline or let it dryly slip out. The pair are bolstered by superb supporting performances from Liu, Marshawn Lynch’s Mr. G, the club’s faculty advisor going through a divorce, and Nicholas Galitzine’s cry-baby quarterback Jeff, in particular. Their manic energy is on a sliding spectrum and it peppers this satirical sojourn in surprising ways. 

I doubt viewers watching will take an incel-like obsession and live by the toxic elements of the film’s fight club like certain male audiences did with David Fincher’s Fight Club. But there’s dark humour lacing proceedings, pushing the boundaries of what you’d expect from a high-school film that I haven’t really seen since my ultimate fave, Heathers

Bottoms is a sharp, painfully funny and exuberant addition to the high-school movie hall of fame that you should definitely not miss. 

‘Bottoms’ will be showing at Electric White City from Friday 3 November. Playing at UK member screenings from Friday 10 November. See our screenings page to find out what’s on at our Houses around the world