Emma Seligman’s new satirical, teen, lesbian comedy film “Bottoms” (2023), which hit screens on Aug. 25, might just be the most stereotypically basic feature of 2023. After the release of the two Oscar-worthy films of the summer “Barbie” (2023) and “Oppenheimer” (2023), Seligman’s motion picture comes up short. Although the film certainly elicits laughter and tackles numerous issues around the LGBTQ+ community in a very witty manner, it does not quite break free from the conventional mold. Whether intentional or not, the directors’ attempt to mock the entertainment industry for the unrealistic representations of the queer community in contemporary films brings up some concerns around its plot choices.
“Bottoms” follows two lesbian high school students, PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), on their mission to win over their crushes by establishing a fictitious self-defense club within their high-school, prompted by a rumor that they had spent their summer in juvie. In this attempt to enchant Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber), who take on the roles of two absurdly popular cheerleaders, PJ and Josie get caught up in a storm of complications, as one would expect. Yet in their attempts to keep the popular quarterback Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine) — who happens to be Isabel’s boyfriend — out of their way, and in their efforts to break free from their role as the “ugly, untalented gays,” the film loses all focus and delves into a realm of absurdity.
Although Seligman’s movie does have its share of hilarity, it often overexerts itself in attempting to inject humor into situations of profound seriousness. This issue is made exceedingly evident during a later scene when one of the girls from the fight club bravely opens up about her trauma with an abusive stepfather, and is completely disregarded by the rest. It’s a common case of the “tryhard.” The basic building blocks of teen movies serve as the foundation, but the over-exaggeration and lack of character development builds an artificial cinematic piece that lacks genuine insight. The characters are reduced to a collection of peculiar quirks who fit into labels: the dumb jock, the popular cheerleader, and the lesbian outcasts, all of whom have no personality whatsoever.
Yet, box-office results of the film should be noted. The success of “Bottoms” in theaters has undeniably made it the movie of the moment. Combined with the recent attention from Rachel Sennott’s appearance in HBO’s “The Idol” (2023) and the indisputable allure of the film’s cast featuring the names of top model Kaia Gerber, alongside the British star Nicholas Galitzine, the “Bottoms” audience is undoubtedly in for a treat. While it has admittedly led to some unexpected disappointment, its box-office accomplishment unequivocally validates the importance of telling queer female stories. The limited representation of lesbians in cinema underscores the significance of this achievement, and continues to show beyond a doubt that there is an incredibly large audience advocating for this genre to be a mainstay in the film industry. While requesting major studios to produce films centered on women is already a challenge, the hurdles of those centered on queer women is even greater, and even more so for queer women of color.
While “Bottoms” has undeniably succeeded in fostering queer female representation in a comedic manner — one that has certainly allured a broad spectrum of viewers — Seligman’s latest release falls short in character development and relies heavily in overly stereotypical roles and labels. These elements contradict the film’s intended mission of challenging the conventional norms of coming-of-age high school films. Particularly in the 21st century, a movie like “Bottoms,” with such a formidable cast and production, should ideally offer fresh perspectives and narratives that provide a more authentic, less exaggerated and absurd portrayal of queer female characters tackling the harshness of high school with humor.