‘Bottoms’ Review: This Summer’s Weirder, Bloodier, Gayer ‘Barbie’

This high school comedy isn't quite like any you've seen before, from its awkward pair of gay protagonists to its surrealist student fight club.

Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri in Bottoms. Courtesy of ORION Pictures Inc.

It’s certainly been the summer of Barbie, as theaters have been stuffed to the brim with pink and thoughts about the paradox of patriarchy, but Bottoms makes the case for a kind of girl power that’s a bit more down and dirty. Maybe that’s because it’s about a pair of teenage girls starting a fight club in their high school, or perhaps because those girls start it with the intention of hooking up with some hotties. Regardless, Bottoms is a brilliantly bizarre movie that pushes boundaries and packs a punch—literally.

BOTTOMS ★★★★ (4/4 stars)
Directed by: Emma Seligman
Written by: Emma Seligman, Rachel Sennott
Starring: Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber
Running time: 88 mins.

Written and directed by Emma Seligman (whose debut feature, Shiva Baby, dominated the indie film world in 2021), Bottoms presents a cartoonish version of high school. PJ (Rachel Sennott, who co-wrote the film) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are best friends and social outcasts. The rest of the student body reviles them, but it’s not because they’re gay—it’s because they’re “gay, untalented and ugly.” In this surrealist small town, the football team is worshiped, with portraits and effigies of their captain Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine, in a decidedly different role from Red, White & Royal Blue) plastered throughout the school. It’s as if Barbie’s Kendom has come to life.

The movie embraces the absurd from the start, with a rumor about both girls going to juvie, a minor vehicular assault and the looming threat of a rival football team resulting in the fight club’s formation. PJ and Josie’s perceived toughness inspires their fellow female students to join, specifically Hazel (Ruby Cruz), a girl who earnestly hopes to find solidarity and empowerment. PJ and Josie go along with their club’s popularity, exploiting their newfound social status—and the physical proximity of hand-to-hand combat—to make some headway with their longtime crushes (Kaia Gerber and Havana Rose Liu, respectively). It’s a plan that’s doomed to fail, but one that’s hilarious to watch in action.

It’s safe to say that you’ve never really seen a movie like Bottoms, though it takes inspiration from plenty of its high school comedy predecessors. Seligman and Sennott’s approach to writing is reminiscent of Diablo Cody’s work on Juno and Jennifer’s Body, with characters and dialogue just a tad bit removed from reality, but Bottoms goes even further. Heathers might be another worthwhile comparison, as both movies share an affinity for violence and some especially dark jokes, and even something sillier like Clueless makes its influence felt. Bottoms takes the best parts of these movies, from their sharp attention towards aesthetics to their irreverent approach to the attitudes of teenage girls. Like the teens of yore, the girls in Bottoms are loud, bawdy and distinctly countercultural. 

Edebiri and Sennott make sure of that with their top-notch performances, too. It’s your typical high school friend dynamic—PJ is overbearing and outgoing, while Josie is awkward and meek—but it’s imbued with a special kind of queer vivacity that makes their relationship endlessly watchable. These girls are weird as hell; they know it, and they embrace it. Sennott’s consistent dry delivery mixed with faux-suave flirtation is perfection, and between Bottoms and last year’s Bodies Bodies Bodies, the actress’ comedic talents seem to know no bounds. 

The same can be said for the Emmy-nominated Edebiri. She nails the movie’s wordier moments, with Josie having multiple monologues fueled entirely by her own imagination and anxiety. She takes the absurdity of the movie and runs with it, her performance getting bigger and louder and more gleefully ridiculous in spite of her character’s relative normalcy. Josie is somehow the only one to really take issue with the fight club, and Edebiri becomes the closest thing this very gay, very female movie has to a straight man.

On the whole, Bottoms may be the most bonkers movie you’ll see this year. It’s got teenage girls beating each other bloody, clever satire of contemporary feminism, and even a wholesome gay relationship or two. It joins the ranks of countless other subversive teen comedies, making space for itself as an instant queer cult classic.

Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.

‘Bottoms’ Review: This Summer’s Weirder, Bloodier, Gayer ‘Barbie’