“Bottoms” Punched Me in the Face (and I Liked It)

In Bottoms — the Emma Seligman-directed queer high school-set sex comedy — best friends and untalented gays PJ (Rachel Sennot) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) start a fight club at their school under the guise of a women’s empowerment group and self-defense workshop. In reality, they’re just trying to get the hot cheerleaders they’ve lusted over throughout high school to sleep with them. Bottoms takes that wonderfully absurd premise and pushes it to even more absurd territory, a sendup not just of teen sex comedies specifically but all kinds of high school-set movies. It’s a bloodier, gayer Mean Girls, though it’s easy to trace its DNA to that beloved teen comedy satire.

With a score co-composed by Charli XCX, a bold color palette, and more than one actual bomb, Bottoms is a boisterous and biting teen comedy that’s very on-the-nose and over-the-top about high school being a violent hellscape of social hierarchies and skin-tingling horniness. Queer chaos doesn’t even begin to cover it. Bottoms doesn’t pull any punches in its over-the-top renderings of teen movie tropes. Here, the violence and sensationalism of high school football gets dialed up to slasher-level extremes. (It’s more Scream Queens than Scream.) Characters know they’ve been slotted into specific tropes: When hot girl Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and her hot girl sidekick Brittany (Kaia Gerber) show up for fight club, Brittany introduces herself by saying, actually, that she doesn’t really have a life or personality outside of her relationship to Isabel. The movie is gory and gross (complimentary). And while PJ and Josie are obsessed with the idea of banging cheerleaders, the movie’s more concerned with the way bodies bleed, break, and bruise than with the way they fuck.

Seligman and Sennot — who previously collaborated on Shiva Baby — pen the punchy script, which collages together meta and satirical humor with farce, heightened by very physical comedic performances from the entire cast. Teen sex comedies are known for their outlandish plot beats, and Bottoms certainly leans into that. A youthful attempt at revenge in the form of vandalism first peters out to comedic effect for being too obviously tame and then ratchets back up to comedic effect for becoming, suddenly, too extreme. The wild, rollercoastery dynamics of Bottoms are indeed dizzying and intoxicating. Sometimes, we’re watching two young queer girls kiss for the first time. Sometimes, we’re watching them punch each other in the face.

The gore and bloody physical comedy of Bottoms as well as its smashing together of slasher and horror elements makes it stand out as wholly original and thrilling. In fact, all that physicality and violence actually lands better overall than some of the humor does. In one of my favorite sequences from the movie (I have several, and most of them are the bloodiest scenes), the fight club really gets going, the girls making a circle and taking turns in pairs to experiment with hitting each other as hard as they can. It’s horny and frightening, living in that confusing, fraught space I associate with a lot of the intense homosocial environments I found myself in when I was closeted and in high school. As the girls take punches, you can see them having this moment of: wait, I can do this, I can take a hit…and also? I might like it?

PJ and Josie, of course, are hyperaware of the erotic nature of this fight club, as it’s literally why they created it. The central friends are heightened absurdist versions of messy queer characters. Their friendship is fleshed out and grounded, and I’m most interested in the toxic parts of that friendship, in the fact that they sometimes bring out the worst in one another. PJ delves all-in on deception when she realizes she can use the rumor that they both went to juvie over the summer to impress girls. Josie’s the more skeptic “straight man” to PJ’s brash bedlam. And yet, there’s a turning point where Josie is almost more devilish in her lies, interrupting a moment originally orchestrated as a way for the girls to open up about genuine traumas to share a completely fabricated saga from juvie. Bottoms is uninterested in likability or in tenderizing queerness. Teens can be so selfish, self-destructive, cruel, and manipulative — yes, even gay ones.

Bottoms is so feisty and direct about fucking with the tropes and follies of sex comedies that the moments when the movie seems to just replicate those tropes without any fuckery are glaring. Its eating disorder jokes fall into that category. So do its somewhat essentialist genitalia-based ones. The movie only contemplates gender in a very conventional boys vs. girls way, which plays things too close to the movies it references. None of these shortcomings take up enough space to undo Bottoms, but it’s noticeable and frustrating when a film so committed to being wild and weird sometimes regurgitates the most boring qualities of the genre(s) its supposedly mocking. Some of the jokes in Bottoms trying so hard to be in-your-face and edgy are actually quite flat. The movie is at its best and most bitey when it’s pushing its characters’ bodies in extreme ways and at its most toothless when falling back on overly familiar jokes about those bodies.

Overall, though, the film is riotously funny. Sennot and Edebiri have pitch perfect comedic chemistry. Ruby Cruz as Hazel — a third wheel to PJ and Josie’s friendship, and mean gay PJ in particular likes to remind her of that positioning — injects the movie with more grounded emotion. Hilarious tiny details in production and direction got me good, like the fact that one of the football villains conducts some of his nefarious investigation of PJ and Josie using a flip phone?! And one needledrop in particular is so perfect, I nearly screamed in the theater.

Like all great teen comedies about best friends, there’s a Big BFF Fight before the final act. But in Bottoms, the best fight scenes are the literal ones. And the film’s final fight scene is easily one of my top favorite movie sequences of the year.


I have a lot more I want to say about Bottoms, but I’ll save it for a probably too long essay to come, so be on the lookout for that and other fun Autostraddle coverage of the movie!

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors who are currently on strike, movies like Bottoms would not be possible, and Autostraddle is grateful for the artists who do this work.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 843 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. Kayla I saw this in a theater packed full of queer youths — and that audience was louder than the one for Barbie. People were hooting and cheering, clapping and laughing hysterically. It was an excellent time. Thank you for this review and also for highlighting so perfectly the moments with this movie where I was just like “hm, that’s disappointing!” Or honestly, unrealistic, like the way there isn’t a single trans kid in the fight club (to my knowledge).

  2. This is from deadline.com:

    “MGM’s expansion of Bottoms from ten locations to 715 should not be ignored. This teen LGBTQ+ high school comedy, though on track for a $3.1M 3-day and $3.7M 4-day, is poised to potentially do more after a $1.2M Friday. Great numbers in NYC, LA, San Francisco, DC, Chicago, Austin and Dallas.”

    Those are pretty good numbers for an indy queer film in only 700 theaters, the queers are really showing up in the big cities.

  3. so I really want to see this for obvious reasons, but I am very squeamish about body horror (specifically like, crunchy(?) horror: bones breaking, limbs going the wrong way, etc., but blood/stabbing doesn’t bother
    me) — I watched at least 30% of Titane with my eyes closed. I’m probably going to put myself through this regardless, but if you had to put the crunchy body horror on a 1-10 scale where would it go?

    • The gore was almost exclusively fake blood and that’s it; honestly far less than I was expecting. I think the people who will struggle the most with this movie is people who cannot handle second-hand awkwardness as man some of the conversations especially at the beginning of the film were painful to get through.

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