‘Bottoms’: a raunchy queer comedy destined to become a cult classic

From left, Ayo Edebiri as Josie and Rachel Sennott as PJ in ‘Bottoms.’
From left, Ayo Edebiri as Josie and Rachel Sennott as PJ in ‘Bottoms.’ (Courtesy of Orion Pictures)

Just in time for back-to-school season comes “Bottoms,” which begins a limited theatrical release Aug. 25 before opening at the PFS Bourse Theater in Philadelphia on Sept. 1. The raunchy queer comedy centers on two lesbians, PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), who start a fight club at their high school. The teens form the club to seduce their respective — and possibly unattainable — same-sex crushes, Brittany (Kaia Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu). Their plan is as dubious as the lies they maintain about being in juvie, where they learned to fight and even kill. But such is the absurdism at work in bisexual director Emma Seligman’s winning film, which she cowrote with Sennott. (Sennott is a game coconspirator; she previously starred in Seligman’s discomfiting debut feature, “Shiva Baby.”) 

PJ and Josie are seen as “losers” at their high school — not because they are gay, but because they are “gay, untalented and ugly.” (That quote is a running joke, and typical of the film’s politically incorrect humor). The two friends desperately want to lose their virginity before they go to college, and they see this year as their last best chance before a future of loneliness or unhappiness in a marriage of convenience. However, an awkward conversation with Brittany and Isabel, leaves them feeling that their chances are hopeless. After Josie injures Isabel’s boyfriend, Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine from “Red, White, and Royal Blue”), the school’s star quarterback, she goes from bad to badass. Principal Meyers (Wayne Pére) admonishes Josie and PJ, who claim, in their defense, that they have started a self-defense club in school for female students.

“Bottoms” is laugh-out-loud funny during the club meetings, where a group of high school girls punch and beat the crap out of each other without repercussions — other than the bruises and bloodshed the students sustain, of course. When Josie punches PJ and breaks her nose, there is more glory than pain, because PJ admits, “I’ve never had so many girls look at me in my life!” Such is the kind of empowerment that the fight club offers. And it is hard not to chuckle when Brittany is on top of PJ, and tells her, “Stop smiling! I’m kicking your ass!” because viewers know PJ’s ulterior motive.

Ironically, the fight club provides a “safe space” for these female teens, who also get an opportunity to share their feelings and bond over the shame and abuse they have experienced. Josie even delivers a moving speech during a “get to know you” session, that makes Isabel want to get closer to her. But on their “date,” Josie discloses to Isabel that Jeff has been cheating on her with their classmate Hazel’s (Ruby Cruz) mother (Dagmara Dominczyk). This prompts the girls to act in solidarity and exact revenge by egging and toilet papering Jeff’s house, while Hazel effectively blows up his car. 

Meanwhile, Jeff’s teammate, Tim (Miles Fowler), suspects something is not quite right with the club. Tim drops a bombshell at the school’s pep rally exposing PJ and Josie, which prompts PJ to have a verbal fight with Hazel, and Josie and PJ to have a falling out. All this tension leads up to the big finale where the club has to act and save the day because the school’s archrival, Huntington, is planning to kill someone on the school’s football team. 

“Bottoms” is a broad comedy, that has little grounding in reality, but it will tickle viewers who vibe on its wavelength. There are a series of throwaway gags, such as the graffiti on PJ and Josie’s lockers which ranges from “Faggot” to “Hot Shit” to “Horny Freak.” And much of the dialogue is fabulously unfiltered, from the school announcements to Mr. G’s (Marshawn Lynch) classroom discussions and remarks in the fight club sessions, where he is the faculty advisor. Even the scenes where Josie and Isabel get intimate, or PJ hopes to put the moves on Brittany are amusing.

The film charms because the cast absolutely leans into the material, playing into the ridiculous situations with deadpan seriousness. Rachel Sennott’s timing and delivery is comic gold — whether she is tongue tied talking to Brittany, egging the cautious Josie on, or verbally jousting in her exchanges with Mr. G. 

As Josie, Ayo Edebiri is equally terrific. Watching her struggle to be the voice of reason only to give up and go with the flow adds to the hilarity. A scene where Josie seeks advice, not firearms, from her “gay Yoda,” Rose (out comic Punkie Johnson), is riotous.

The film’s other secret weapon is Ruby Cruz as Hazel, who is the real brains (and sometimes brawn) of the fight club. She is adept at making bombs but can also distract folks with a lesbian kiss during the big game. A comic highlight has Hazel being forced to fight a boxer during the pep rally, and Cruz admirably goes all in with her performance. Hazel is sure to become the fan favorite in this film, which is destined to become a cult classic. 

“Bottoms” is scrappy and appealing, like its heroines. And stay tuned during the credit scroll, which feature outtakes that add to the film’s fun.

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