The 2020s have been a rough time for teen comedies; none have permeated the culture in the same way, say, the 2010s were by 'Easy A' and 'Pitch Perfect', among others. It may appear that the true nail in the coffin is the upcoming 'Mean Girls' reboot/musical/general insult to good taste – why are studios already remaking recent classics? - but I would argue differently. The death of the teen comedy comes to us in this year's 'Bottoms', a film so delicately manufactured to show up on Letterboxd user end-of-year lists that it reeks of as much desperation as its horny leads.
Teenagers PJ (Rachel Sennott, 'Bodies Bodies Bodies') and Josie (Ayo Edebiri, 'The Sweet East') are miserable, unpopular, and respectively in love with cheerleader classmates Brittany (Kaia Gerber, 'Babylon') and Isabel (Havana Rose Liu, 'No Exit'). When their school, Rockbridge Falls, reignites their football rivalry with the nearby Huntington High, the threat of violence becomes real for every Rockridge student. In an attempt to help their female classmates protect themselves – but really, to capture the attention of Brittany and Isabel – PJ and Josie begin an after-school self-defence club. Shockingly, the ruse works; the club captures the attention of the entire student body despite PJ and Josie not knowing how to teach self-defence at all, and the club mutates into a sexually-charged fight club.
SWITCH: 'BOTTOMS' REDBAND TRAILER
Despite what many may think, the success of a comedy should not live and die with how much it makes its audiences laugh – an individual's sense of humor is as unique as their fingerprint, and to construct a comedy that has mass comedic appeal often takes a supreme stroke of luck, or going for easy low-hanging jokes. While it's true that 'Bottoms' gave me a number of guffaws I need only one hand to count, what's so egregious is just how hard the film tried to make me laugh. Anyone remotely familiar with Sennott and Edebiri know just how funny these women are, and yet every punchline they utter is so incredibly zapped of their usual charm that it's hard to conflate the leads in this film with their other work.
Additionally, the film's tone is an incredibly strange one; it attempts to get to the bottom (pun unintended) of the epidemic of violence among today's youth, which requires a degree of realism, but then steers straight into extreme, absurdist violence. Maybe picking just one of these lanes would work, but together it creates a confused jumble with nothing interesting or compelling to say. Further muddying the film's effectiveness is just how little we learn or care about any of the characters. Director Emma Seligman ('Shiva Baby') co-wrote the script with Sennott and chooses to spend the film turning each one into well-worn teen film caricatures who provide solely for the gag.
'Bottoms' really, really wants to become a teen classic, but it's so desperate to become one that it tries to take the elements of actual classic films to reverse-engineer success instead of having the creativity or talent to organically achieve it.
All of this to say, 'Bottoms' really, really wants to become a teen classic, but it's so desperate to become one that similar to the recent thriller 'Saltburn', it tries to take the elements of actual classic films to reverse-engineer success instead of having the creativity or talent to organically achieve it. Throwing beloved internet pop star Charli XCX on composer duties doesn't quite do enough to disguise this either. There will no doubt be comparisons drawn between 'Bottoms' and 'Booksmart', but unlike the latter, 'Bottoms' is under the impression that it's in some way a revolutionary spin. It's okay to ride the tropes of a genre, but to do so in a way that directly tells your audience how different and funny and cool your film is feels like forced fanfare.
'Bottoms' is a film that should be primed for classic status, but never truly earns it. Perhaps the perplexing praise the film has received both critically and commercially is a result of a barren desert of any other teen comedies, and 'Bottoms' appears as the much-needed body of water nearby. Be careful of the mirage, dear readers; you might just come up as empty and unsatisfied as I did.