Edit Desk: Calling all ugly, untalented gays


Teen comedies are a tricky line to walk. Like any genre, they can fall victim to tired tropes and uninspired writing (think, “The Kissing Booth”). After all, can’t hot people make anything watchable? 

As it turns out, wacky premises and cheesy lines aren’t a recipe for success. Still, with the right talent alignment and much gusto, an over-the-top teen comedy transforms into on-screen magic. 

“Could the ugly, untalented gays report to the principal’s office?” is one way to sum up 2023’s hit “Bottoms.”

It’s also the opening line to the trailer. 

Best friends PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are the aforementioned ugly, untalented gays of Rockbridge Falls High School. After injuring the school’s prized football jock, Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), the girls inadvertently create a “female fight club.”

The fight club in and of itself is a biting critique of the assumption that women ought to learn how to defend themselves from the animalistic instincts of the opposite sex. The cartoonishly boyish and sinister depictions of men illuminate both the necessity and rationale for the club. 

With the help of a doe-eyed Hazel (Ruby Cruz), the pair lure in their cheerleading crushes Isabel and Brittany (Havana Rose Liu and Kaia Gerber). Others join to create a rag-tag girl group who empower each other with black eyes, bombs and borderline massacre. 

Director Emma Seligman, who made her feature-length debut with the off-kilter “Shiva Baby” (2020), handles “Bottoms’” subject matter with serious silliness. 

Departing from the claustrophobic, muted world of store-bought charcuterie boards in “Shiva Baby,” “Bottoms” leans into the aesthetics of a mythological depiction of an American town. If an alien came to Earth and spent one day at an American public high school, this might be the story they bring back to their home planet. 

The dumb-as-rocks quarterback, bulimic cheerleader and aloof best friend are not just played for quick laughs, but for resounding amusement. 

Seligman, also a co-writer alongside star Rachel Sennott, is acutely aware of how the film weighs satire. That is to say, there’s a lot of it. Even the most tense moments between troubled friends PJ and Hazel or the blossoming Josie and Isabel are underlined with humor. In the former, you pray upon PJ’s downfall, and in the latter, you’re delighted by the awkward flirtations. 

In a melodramatic montage, Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” voices a moody PJ eating canned soup and Josie kicking dirt on the road while the gang gathers around a wounded Hazel. 

This self-awareness toward characters who are both fleshed out and, at times, caricatures, works to enhance the film’s overall wit. “Complicated” is a song that, in another film, could have been applied to heartache and breakups. But in “Bottoms,” it’s a power ballad about how dramatic teenagers want to feel. 

All of this, however, would go unrewarded with a cast that was any less dedicated to drawing out the humor of every single on-screen interaction. There isn’t a single character whose ridiculousness isn’t played with earnestness, while simultaneously recognizing the absurdity of the situation they’re in. 

Sennott, in particular, wields her white-girl cadence like a weapon. In contrast to Edebiri’s frequent fluster, Sennott nearly makes herself the villain with nothing more than her delivery. As a pair of single lesbian best friends, the dynamics in their vocal inflections alone tell a story. 

Galitzine and Miles Fowler are two scrawny football players whose grandiosity is self-aware in the best way possible. In one scene, Fowler’s scheming has him hunched over a yellow phone book trying to get to the bottom of his invented problem — as if anyone watching this film would have ever seen a phonebook before. 

Even side characters like Mr. G. (former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch) air a natural sense of comedic timing that is joyous to watch. 

The performances lend themselves to the success of the film’s third act: a fight scene so large not a single character is unmarked by blood. From an unscored heartthrob in Hazel to the guttural screams of Isabel, a detailed and creative finale sets up a beautiful reconciliation of the crew’s bond that is both heartfelt and laugh-out-loud funny. 

This is a film about friendship, saving the day and beating the shit out of each other. “Bottoms’” ability to diagnose and appropriate genuine instances of homophobia in its predecessors for cathartic release is a testament to its direction and writing. All of which can be enjoyed with minimal reading between the lines; proving once and for all that gay people are equally capable of unlikability as they are fairy-tale endings. 


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