Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor
In spite of the ongoing Hollywood screenwriters’ and actors’ strike, Summer 2023 was the summer of cinema for teens and young adults. Young movie fans flocked to theaters in trenchcoats and hot pink crop tops for Barbenheimer weekend, bringing theaters back to their former glory. The coming months look hopeful for Gen Z, with “Five Nights at Freddy’s” and “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” coming to theaters this fall; though I wonder whether they’ll outshine the summer’s most original movie, “Bottoms”.
Directed by the up-and-coming Emma Seligman,“Bottoms” premiered at the 2023 South by Southwest Film Festival in March before releasing in select theaters on August 25. It stars Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott as best friends Josie and PJ, respectively. The self-identified “ugly, untalented gays” start a self-defense club in the name of female solidarity at their school as part of a scheme to bond with their crushes, cheerleaders Isabel and Brittany. After a rivalry with the football team exposes Josie and PJ’s web of lies, they must find a way to bring the girls back together again for one last brawl.
Josie and PJ are the heart of “Bottoms.” Their dynamic mirrors that of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera in “Superbad,” with PJ’s quick decisions and fiery attitude driving the story forward as Josie hesitantly follows her lead. They may not be the most considerate of other people’s feelings or the consequences of their actions, but they’re undeniably human. The teens are motivated by the idea of high school romance, and much like us at their age, they take their failures a little too close to heart. Edebiri and Sennott embody their characters, performing so naturally in each scene like they’re starring as past versions of themselves.
The movie pays homage to past teen comedies while distancing itself from the genre’s outdated sense of humor and poor writing of underrepresented groups. Most, if not all, teen comedies from the 1980s through the 2010s are a cause for concern. Unintelligent jokes made at the expense of people of color, teenage girls and the LGBTQ+ community are expected when watching movies like “10 Things I Hate About You,” tainting their otherwise engaging stories and quirky characters. “Bottoms” revives the genre while both acknowledging and overcoming its pitfalls. Many plot points, characters and jokes make jabs at the classic 2000s teen comedies like “Mean Girls,” particularly their portrayals of teenage girls and the issues they deal with. None of its female characters, queer characters or characters of color are reduced to their social identities. Josie and PJ are not respected for much of the movie, but it’s not because they dared to openly identify as lesbians in a teen comedy. That might’ve been the case if “Bottoms'' was released fifteen years ago, but now, their sexuality is viewed as normal, even celebrated. As a young queer woman, seeing people like myself leading such a fun and original movie gives me hope for more positive representation moving forward.
Refreshing and hilarious, “Bottoms” is Seligman’s second feature. Her equally impressive directorial debut “Shiva Baby” is available to stream on Max.