‘Bottoms’ Review: Physical Education

In this buddy comedy, senior outcasts played by Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri attempt to woo two cheerleaders through a fight club.

By Elisabeth Vincentelli

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Josie and PJ are high school seniors, and they have some pressing unfinished business. “Do you want to be the only girl virgin at Sarah Lawrence?” PJ (Rachel Sennott) asks Josie (Ayo Edebiri) during the dark-night-of-the-soul conversation that begins “Bottoms.” Yes, Emma Seligman’s comedy takes off with tires screeching.

It is imperative for our buddies to have sex, stat, but that is a complicated proposition: Not only are they unpopular outcasts — “the ugly, untalented gays,” as opposed to the ones who breezily sashay down the hallways — but they have set their sights on two unapproachably hot cheerleaders. It is obvious that PJ and Josie will need some devious scheming to win over their crushes.

Going along with a rumor that they’ve spent time in juvenile detention, the pair acquire an instant reputation as tough girls and the school lets them start a self-defense club in which the most vicious brawls are somehow allowed. Even Josie’s object of desire, Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), is impressed by consciousness-raising through punching, even more so after she learns her quarterback boyfriend (Nicholas Galitzine, of “Red, White & Royal Blue”) is cheating on her.

Seligman and Sennott’s first collaboration was the quietly unsettling “Shiva Baby” (2021), which took place almost entirely over the span of one afternoon at the title wake, and progressively ensnared Sennott’s character in a web of deadpan, discomforting humor. For their follow-up, the collaborators (Sennott wrote the movie with Seligman) have gone down a completely different stylistic road, putting a queer spin on teenage sex comedies à la “Superbad” and “American Pie.” They have replaced the death by a thousand cuts of “Shiva Baby” with a gleeful broadness. It ultimately fizzes out, but “Bottoms” confirms that Seligman and Sennott are major new forces in American comedy.

A lot does click here, including several delicious supporting performances, most notably the former N.F.L. running back Marshawn Lynch as the fight club’s loopy faculty adviser and Ruby Cruz as Hazel, a cool classmate whom, naturally, PJ does not even see. The script also lands many corkers, as when a student named Annie (Zamani Wilder) complains “this is the second wave all over again” after realizing PJ and Josie were prioritizing self-serving goals over sisterhood.

That last aspect is what feels most undernourished and, in the end, unexpectedly timid. Not much is made of the fact that PJ is one of the biggest liars and bullies of the story and uses her gift of gab to cynically deploy empowerment messaging. And while the movie is set in a surreally heightened universe in which football players never leave their uniform and teachers read girlie magazines in class, it is oddly more comfortable goofing off with outrageous violence than elementary sexuality.

For most of its tight running time, “Bottoms” hovers on the cusp of greatness. It’s often funny but it also never delivers satisfying set pieces, and stops short of questioning — not to mention subverting — the warped high school stratification that remains one of America’s building blocks.


Rated R for typical teen language, fight-club violence and football run amok. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. In theaters.


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