“Bottoms” was the most-watched film on Letterboxd, the social media website for film nerds, on its first week of wide release. It’s been marked as “watched” by over 100k users, far more than other summer movies like “Gran Turismo” and “Blue Beetle.” But it has thus far made a mediocre nine million at the box office (against an $11 million budget, not counting marketing. It’s not too hard to see through this discrepancy – the film was marketed as a showcase of online humor, with music that would be more fitting for a pop star’s fancam and lines that sounded like someone’s viral tweets.
The film is centered around two teenagers, PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edbeiri). These two loser lesbians decide to fabricate a criminal history to start a high school fight club. Their ultimate goal is to get laid, which is weird across-the-board. “Bottoms” takes place in a bizarre parody world of high school movie tropes, where the star quarterback is the second coming of Christ and history teachers assign quizzes on “Feminism: who started it?” At times it’s hard to even parse exactly what exactly the film is mocking with just how many tropes it’s taking on. That’s not a complaint – some of the movie’s best jokes are derived from nonsensical details in the background. The rest of the comedy gets increasingly unexpected. Rather than the grating humor the movie’s trailers might imply, the majority of the film’s jokes rely on the deep awkwardness of the club’s interactions, particularly those about its leaders’ fake stories of their time in juvie.
It’s the kind of humor that is not directly funny, but where a laugh might escape like an uncomfortable whisper. The jokes are generally on the edge between low-hanging and effective and the much more subversive moments of dramatic irony.
The movie uses its R-rating to its full extent. Violence is bloody and visceral, and any subject from sexual assault to terrorism is fair game in the eyes of the writers. But despite the audacity and edginess of the movie’s humor, its plot is basic.
The fight club is under threat when one football player with a grudge tries to dig up dirt on its founders. If the lie about juvie is revealed, it could spell disaster for the club and the budding romance between leader Josie and her crush Isabel (Havana Rose Liu). The generic plot doesn’t get in the way of the comedy (more like amplifies it – it brings plenty of gags straight out of an 80s high school movie), but it does force a warm and happy romance subplot into a movie that is otherwise unashamedly offensive.
This is perhaps inevitable – lesbian relationships still represented in film- and it would be a downer to have the film end with its main couple apart. “Bottoms” is, at the end of the day, a crowd-pleasing good time at the movies before anything else. But in striving to be a feel-good comedy, it also loses a bit of the edge that makes it more than just #relatable.