Bottoms movie review: Bottoms up, we're in for a brilliant, bumpy ride

 (Courtesy of ORION Pictures Inc.)
(Courtesy of ORION Pictures Inc.)

Despite coming out in the US at the end of August, and going onto become a modest box office success there, Bottoms has kept fans here on the other side of the Atlantic waiting, and waiting. Even as choice clips, early reactions and full blown spoilers carried on hitting the timeline, a release date for fans elsewhere was nowhere to be seen and there was speculation that it would quietly get bunged onto a streamer rather than getting a full theatrical release elsewhere.

That would have been a shame because, willfully silly, filled with ridiculous levels of gore and craftily hidden background jokes, and playing on many of the established tropes that fill dark-humoured high school classics such as Mean Girls and Heathers, this is a film you ideally want to see in a slightly raucous cinema. Now, after a month or so of faffing about, it’s finally here for its full theatrical release. Bottoms up!

Directed by Emma Seligman, who first broke through with the indie sleeper hit Shiva Baby in 2020, Bottoms shares much of the offbeat wit of her feature debut, and once again stars a brilliantly deadpan Rachel Sennott: this time as “gay, untalented, and ugly” PJ.

Along with her best mate Josie (The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri), PJ is desperate to lose her virginity before college, and the pair are both harbouring ferocious cases of lust for their school’s cheerleading stars Isabel and Brittany. When all conventional attempts to chat them up fall into excruciatingly awkward farce, the pair plough ahead with Plan B: setting up a women’s self-defense class, or fight club, alongside their friend Hazel (who somehow gets away with plotting several terror bombings over the course of the film without any real consequence) in order to seamlessly seduce them both. Incredibly, this plan isn’t a total failure.

 (Patti Perret)
(Patti Perret)

Seligman has said that she wanted to make a high school movie to explore a genre from which LGBTQ+ characters have historically been excluded. While there are a handful of queer-coded characters here and there (Janis Ian and her fabulous purple tuxedo in Mean Girls springs to mind) it’s true they’re often a sideshow to the main event. And though there’s certainly been a shift in recent years, with films like Love, Simon and Booksmart paving the way, there’s a certain squeaky-clean innocence to a lot of these films.

In Bottoms, on the other hand, you’ll find more crude sex jokes than you can shake a pom-pom at. It’s also bizarrely violent. As the absurdity ramps up, blood splatters the basketball courts, and full-blown cage fighting brawls unfold before the baying bleachers. There's even a sword fight, and casual mass murder, for crying out loud.

The former NFL player Marshawn Lynch is a surprise stand-out as Mr G, a mid-divorce teacher who reluctantly agrees to sign off PJ and Josie’s deeply unethical after school club, with a number of properly scene-stealing lines. Elsewhere, not all of the closest-to-the-bone jokes land and occasionally feel jackhammered in for shock value; it’s actually in the smaller, more subtle details where Bottoms is funniest.

At Rockbridge Falls High, the school’s football players stoically refuse to take off their shoulder pads, and awkwardly teeter on stools at the back of class like a nervous boy band; in one scene it’s made clear that their team’s shining star, Jeff (a hilarious Nicholas Galitzine, bringing abundant pouting himbo energy to the role) has been wearing them during sex.

In a nod to Jamie Babbit’s 1999 cult classic But I’m A Cheerleader, a local restaurant is named But I’m A Diner (complete with a waitress called Natasha) – and stylistically Bottoms pays tribute to the many titans of the high school genre. Heathers feels like the most obvious influence, along with the silly slapstick of John Hughes’ classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

 (Courtesy of ORION Pictures Inc.)
(Courtesy of ORION Pictures Inc.)

It's by no means flawless. There are some clunky scripting moments and the plot frequently borders on nonsensical. Fortunately Seligman’s cast have the comic chops to carry it all off, and incredibly, its jaw-dropping closing sequence manages to tie up nearly all of the loose ends.

A weird, wonderful, deeply warped love letter to the high school movie, could this be a contender for the left-field breakout comedy of the year? Quite possibly.

92 mins, cert 15

In cinemas