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Sadistic, satirical ‘Bottoms’ makes ‘Fight Club’ look tame

Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri go for broke in director Emma Seligman’s over-the-top high school comedy about two lesbian outcasts.

Ayo Edebiri stars as Josie and Rachel Sennott as PJ in "Bottoms."Patti Perret

I loved every twisted, hilarious minute of the violent high school comedy “Bottoms” because, as I’ve told you more than once, I’m a sicko. My repeated thought as I sat in the screening room was, “What the hell am I watching, and why can’t I stop watching it?” Afterward, I staggered out punch-drunk and giddy, blinded by the afternoon sun.

“Bottoms” has a devil-may-care approach to its satire that might have made Jonathan Swift proud. Director Emma Seligman, who co-wrote the script with this film’s star, Rachel Sennott, are unconcerned about offending audiences. If you’ve seen their last film, the 2021 cringe comedy, “Shiva Baby,” you know what you’re in for here.


The filmmakers’ targets are high school movies and the real-life environment that often inspires those films. “Bottoms” takes place in Rockbridge Falls, where football is king. The entire town awaits the big game against their most hated rivals, whom they haven’t defeated in 20 years. Expectations are high because Rockbridge Falls High has Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), the star quarterback, on their team.

Meanwhile, in Nerdland, losers PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are figuring out how to talk to their crushes and perhaps finally get laid. Besties since they were kids, the duo are inseparable. They’re polar opposites — PJ is brash, Josie introverted — but they share a common disdain for Hazel (Ruby Cruz), an equally unpopular teen whose company they nonetheless tolerate.

From left: Ayo Edebiri, Rachel Sennott, Zamani Wilder, Summer Joy Campbell, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, and Virginia Tucker in "Bottoms."ORION Pictures Inc.

It’s a typical high school movie plot, right down to the part where the cheerleaders are a bunch of mean girls whose captain, Isabel (Havana Rose Liu), is lusted after by both the quarterback and one of the nerds. “Bottoms” takes this familiar premise and bends it toward a gleeful level of nihilistic excess.

For starters, Rockbridge Falls High is a hellscape. The football players have free reign to terrorize everyone, the teachers barely teach, and the principal threatens to expel women who defend themselves from violence. Jeff is not only the star player, he’s a beacon of toxic masculinity who serves as the school’s ultimate poster boy for manhood.


PJ and Josie are lesbians whose plan to catch the eye of their crushes is to start a fight club to show they have street cred. After all, the female objects of affection in high school movies favor the bad boys, so it stands to reason that they might go for the bad girls as well. Despite having zero fighting experience, the BFFs run with a rumor started by Hazel that they were in juvie over the summer.

The ruse works! PJ’s crush, Brittany (Kaia Gerber), and Isabel, whom Josie hopes to make her inamorata, join the club. Unfortunately, several other young women do, too, most of whom PJ dismisses as rating lower than 7 out of 10 on the hotness scale.

No matter. Soon everyone in the club is beating the Lydia Tár out of each other. I should warn you that the fight scenes are no joke. They’re as violent as the ones in “Raging Bull.”

To satisfy the school’s club rules, PJ convinces their clueless teacher, Mr. G (former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch), to act as their adviser. Angered by his impending divorce and displaying his own casual misogyny, Mr. G is perfectly fine with high school seniors wailing on one another under the guise of self-defense.


The fight club’s newfound badass reputation pulls attention from the football team, leading Jeff’s righthand man and fellow player, Tim (Miles Fowler), to repeatedly threaten PJ and Josie. It’s interesting to note that, in a movie full of unsavory men that includes an uber-violent half-naked wrestler kept in a cage, Tim poses the biggest threat.

Sennott brings an unlikability to PJ that’s not too off-putting; she’s great, but Edebiri is the film’s MVP and the audience’s stand-in, reacting in relatable ways to the increasingly absurd scenarios. Along with Cruz, she’s the unexpected heart of a film whose soul is delightfully dark.

From left: Rachel Sennott, Havana Rose Liu, and Ayo Edebiri in "Bottoms."ORION Pictures Inc.

Galitzine, last seen in a vastly different role in “Red, White & Royal Blue,” shows his considerable range and keen comic timing as the macho QB whose Achilles heel involves pineapple juice.

As expected, all plot roads lead to the big football game. Did I mention that every year this event results in one or more deaths of Rockbridge Falls players at the hands of their rivals? We learn that from SNL alum Punkie Johnson in a memorable cameo.

How Seligman and Sennott deal with this murderous plot development, and what they task their heroes to do as a result, conspire to make “Bottoms” one of the most potentially divisive films of 2023. If the tame-by-comparison “Barbie” upset all those right-wing men on the internet, this movie might give them a stroke.



Directed by Emma Seligman. Written by Seligman and Rachel Sennott. Starring Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Ruby Cruz, Havana Rose Liu, Nicholas Galitzine, Marshawn Lynch, Kaia Gerber, Miles Fowler. At Coolidge Corner, AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square, suburbs. 92 min. Rated R (bad words float like a butterfly, violence stings like a bee)


Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.