Emma Seligman’s 2020 directorial debut, “Shiva Baby,” starred a fresh out of college Rachel Sennott, playing a messy bisexual woman navigating her (paid) affair with a married man, her complicated relationship with her high school girlfriend, and her parent’s expectations of her all in the midst of a Shiva (as the title suggests). “Shiva Baby” was an instant hit, resonating with many during the pandemic and was described as “a bisexual panic attack” by Letterboxd user “mayayeo.”
After my first viewing of “Shiva Baby,” I was hooked on all that Seligman and Sennot had to offer. All this to say, as a queer teenage girl obsessed with Rachel Sennot and campy teen classics, “Bottoms” is my “Avengers: Endgame.” A lesbian high school fight club? I was prepared to buy tickets as soon as I heard the faintest murmurs of the film’s production.
As the film’s teasers and widespread hype present, “Bottoms” is laugh-out-loud funny. It is as outrageous as it is authentically queer. PJ (Rachel Sennot) and Josie (Ayo Edibiri) are quintessential “ugly untalented gays,” and their wardrobes show just as much. PJ is clad in dorky suspenders, mom jeans, and striped sweaters and Josie isn’t much better off in large graphic tees and baggy pants. They are unlikely to start a “nipple-covering suspenders” trend, nor will they contribute to any idealization of the high school experience. Their crushes, on the other hand, Brittany (Kai Gerber) and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), are hot, wealthy, popular cheerleaders.
Assuming their picture-perfect crushes would be out of their league otherwise, PJ and Josie set up a girls-only fight club when they realize that “punching each other makes girls weirdly horny.” The plan? Get Brittany and Isabel to fall for them, and lose their virginities before their freshman year of college. Once the club begins meeting, they garner a following of young women actually looking for a safe space to express themselves and fight off presumed attacks from their rival school’s football team, the Huntington Devils.
“Bottoms” is a fun, campy movie that clearly builds off of the teen movie canon. It’s predecessors in sapphic teen films (“But I’m a Cheerleader,” “Jennifer’s Body,” “D.E.B.S”) have paved the way for it and left a thirst in the market for fun queer cinema in which no gays are buried, burned, or tragically broken up — something usually absent in the highest-grossing queer films of the past decade.
It unabashedly markets to a new genre of filmgoers: Letterboxd users. The movie logging platform is a hazy cross between Twitter and IMDb and has quickly become a main social media outlet for younger film enthusiasts. The site encourages quippy one-liner reviews and has become a way for young people to discover movies they might not otherwise know about. “Bottoms” is a perfect amalgamation of what the site feeds off of. It is full of short scenes, neatly packed lines of dialogue, and marketable film stills. That is to say, it feels like the movie was made to be shared on the internet. As soon the lights began to flicker back on in the theatre, I counted at least three different audience members pull their phones out and immediately log their review onto Letterboxd. As easy as this phenomenon is to criticize, once I noticed this, I sheepishly pulled out my own phone and input a 4.5-star review onto the app, to the chagrin of my girlfriend.
The implicit marketability of “Bottoms” doesn’t make it a sellout or mean that it’s a worse movie necessarily. But as social media becomes essential for a movie’s success, it’s something to keep in mind. If you begin to spot scenes in a movie that were “made” for TikTok, you might never enjoy a movie fully again. The same goes for albums, books, and anything made for the public eye.
Ayo Edibiri and Rachel Sennott have each starred in several hits in the past few years, most notably, Edibiri’s supporting role in last year’s Emmy-nominated series: “The Bear.” Edibiri plays a chef in the fast-paced dramedy on Hulu alongside Jeremy Allan White. Her comedy and acting background alongside Rachael Sennot reaches back all the way to 2020, with the Comedy Central series “Ayo and Rachael Are Single,” which pokes fun at millennial dating culture in New York City. The chemistry between the two is palpable in interviews where they almost seem to forget that the camera and interviewer are present. Their longstanding friendship makes “Bottoms” feel authentic despite the outrageous subplots throughout the film.
Sennott and Seligman have been in the process of creating “Bottoms” since early 2020 when they began crafting the film in NYU film labs and in empty classrooms on campus. The script went through a few different variations before being finalized as the queer fight club that “Bottoms” is now, ranging from “Gay Knitting Club” to “Girl Brawl.” Although I wish “F**k Night At The Knitting Club” existed, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennot’s script has undoubtedly achieved what they set out to do. It’s clear from the very beginning of the brainstorming process that the focus of the film would be finding queer female community in an unlikely space.
If you are yearning for a fun, teen film that stretches the bounds of what a campy movie should be, “Bottoms” might be the one for you. If you are notorious for picking apart the intricacies of a movie or you detest not feeling like you’re “in” on the joke, you might fare better seeing something else.