Marketing is not the movie, but it’s worth noting the various descriptions of writer-director Emma Seligman’s Bottoms. It’s been billed as “high school Fight Club” and (/or?) a queer sex comedy—with both speaking to Seligman’s ambition following her strong debut feature, Shiva Baby. To say this film isn’t (or can’t be) both is understandable; to discover it fails at being either is a sizable disappointment.
Bottoms introduces us to PJ (Rachel Sennott, also billed as co-writer) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), who describe themselves as “gay, but untalented,” leaving them little option but to be outcasts. As per the standard trope, however, they still want to have sex before the end of high school. So they concoct a plan to start a self-defence club for girls, which does indeed inadvertently turn into a fight club. All of this just sort of happens, with characters thrown into the frame with minimal context (or sense of composition). There are the objects of lust (Havana Rose Liu and Kaia Gerber), the mentor figure (Marshawn Lynch, a real-life football player), and the typical villains (some interchangeable pretend football players). The particulars of the plot have little meaning beyond that, as Seligman and Sennott don’t seem particularly beholden to any one tone, let alone any single narrative. To return to Shiva Baby for a moment, the constraints of that film—both in terms of budget and reality—led to the production of a concise and funny picture. It declared Seligman as a new talent to watch.
With Bottoms, Seligman has gotten more expansive, but she’s also let the air out of her film. If this is supposed to be a satire, then it’s of the laziest type; if it’s to be a goofy romp, where are the setups and punchlines? What’s most dispiriting is the potential squandered in the premise (one, or the other). Instead of a solid idea, we get a surplus of riffing and a grab bag of zingers tossed into the mix in the hope something will stick. Nothing does.