Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 3, 2023

Bottoms is a fresh take on coming-of-age queer cinema

By HANNAH PHAN | September 26, 2023



In Bottoms, two lesbian high schoolers start a fight club to woo their cheerleader crushes.

Bottoms, directed by Emma Seligman, is the most memorable comedy I’ve seen all year. On top of being genuinely funny, it subverts the usual stereotypes of queer media about teenagers. There’s no coming-out subplot present anywhere, but the film is still full of unapologetically lesbian characters and gay jokes that had the entire theater laughing. Personally, it was also the most I’ve laughed out loud in a theater before. Every joke, even the most ridiculous, landed impressively. 

The story follows two lesbians in high school, P.J. and Josie, as they try to get closer to their cheerleader crushes. To do this, they start a fight club disguised as a means to teach women self-defense. 

Josie is a shy, outwardly timid high school senior who has harbored a longtime crush on a cheerleader, Isabel. With her best friend P.J. — who is responsible for most of the chaos in the film — Josie is much less apprehensive and more self-assured, willing to go along with whatever ridiculous plan P.J. has. 

P.J. is determined to woo her own crush, also on the cheerleading team, while encouraging Josie to pursue hers. After a night of failed interactions with their respective crushes at a school carnival, P.J. devises the fight club plan. Both girls are witty and charming in their own unconventional ways, and their dynamic as friends seems genuine and believable. Despite how desperate the two are, their struggles with high school love are still relatable and you find yourself rooting for their success. 

The rest of the film demonstrates how successful their plan really is and showcases how the two protagonists change in their approach to life and their own friendship throughout their wild plan to find love. P.J. and Josie, both set in their own roles as the plan creator and the plan follower, have to learn to adjust how they act with one another as they realize it might not be the most effective system for accomplishing their goals. Outside of exploring the usual difficulty of harboring an unrequited crush, Bottoms also highlights how friendships require compromise in the face of hardship, no matter how close two best friends are.

As it is a work of satire, any viewer of Bottoms should prepare themselves to be thrown into the film’s absurd nature. The humor, while comedic, is a bit crude at times. For example, Marshawn Lynch’s character, an oblivious high school teacher, writes on the board, “Feminism. Who started it? a) Gloria Steinem b) a man c) another woman.” 

In another scene, as club supervisor, he says something along the lines of, “And this is why we should never have a female president” after a massive failure from the protagonists. However, Lynch, along with the starring actors, Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott, fully deliver in their roles and embrace the script’s weirdness.

The absence of a coming-out or gender-questioning narrative contributes to the movie’s subversion of your typical queer media about young adults. The film’s genre was bound to deviate from what’s most commonly seen, but by fully leaning into its inherent unconformity, Bottoms represents a future where messier, unconventional queer films become more widespread. 

I give the film four and a half stars out of five, with my only complaint stemming from some pacing issues within the 92-minute runtime. The exposition is a bit too long, and you noticeably spend the first 15 minutes a bit disconnected from the story until the action picks up. After this initial bump, the rest of the film flows smoothly through the end. 

The screenplay was original and unique, and it also featured excellent cinematography and sound. Performances were stellar from everyone involved, and although it is sort of unbelievable that two very uncool high schoolers could pull off a scheme on this scale, I felt that every significant character could exist as a real, layered person (even if some of them were very much satirical stereotypes, like the preppy cheerleaders or depressed outcasts). 

Although not necessarily a box office success, Bottoms succeeds in being an engaging, new representation of what queer media can be — a bit nonsensical but still a fun and worthwhile watch.

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