Unlike its predecessor, the latest cinematic fight club features no pink soap, no toxic masculinity, and certainly no rules banning the discussion of fight club. In fact, leaders PJ and Josie are begging you to talk about their fight club, and please, bring all your hot cheerleader friends.
Another addition to the library of raunchy high school comedies, Bottoms takes delight in both subverting and aligning with the genre’s stereotypes. Childhood best friends PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) confront the greatest fear of all high schoolers about to begin their senior year: not losing their virginity before they graduate. Their issue does not lie in being gay (it’s 2023, homophobia is so out), but in being “ugly and untalented.” After an accidental hit and run with star football player Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine) and false rumors of a summer spent in juvie, Josie and PJ discover that beating the shit out of people makes girls horny for them. To capitalize on this newfound wisdom, the pair starts a fight club under the guise of female empowerment in order to win over their respective objects of affection, cheerleaders Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber).
Chaos ensues, and the over–the–top style of the film allows for a multitude of violently hilarious fight scenes. Pushing, slapping, hair–pulling, nose–punching, and ground–tackling are all more than welcome. But as our main characters sport more bandaids and bruises, and as their popularity grows, they quickly learn that deception and false pretenses will only get them so far.
The beauty of this film lies within its lack of depth, or perhaps better described, its focus on the superficial issues that plague the average high schooler. Let’s be clear here: the plot and a majority of the action and dialogue is completely insane. No cheerleading team is skipping the elaborate gymnastics routine in favor of a white T–shirt contest and no school rivalry is going so far as horrifically murdering the opposing football team. But a fight between best friends, feeling embarrassed by your perceived unattractiveness, and fretting over your crush's mixed signals are very much real. And though the film opts to rely on a constantly over–comedic tone, Josie's and PJ's character arcs don’t ever feel too far off from real life.
From the moment we meet Josie, it's established that not only is Isabel her long–term crush, but that Isabel is dating the aforementioned star football player, Jeff. In a desperate attempt to figure out how to begin a conversation with her, Josie mockingly asks her how her boyfriend and his penis is. A bad opening line for sure, but somehow still better than her accidentally blurting out to Isabel that she’s so skinny, it’s concerning. Awkwardness aside, the girls become closer and closer as Josie helps to uncover Jeff’s various cheating scandals and enact revenge through eggs, toilet paper, and even a car bomb. In a (literal) climax, the pair share a first real kiss, falling into the bed, and the screen fades to black.
PJ and Brittany’s romance, on the contrary, takes the back–burner to their respective best friends’ slow–burn, appearing to be an almost underdeveloped plot point of the movie. But when PJ finally makes her move, Brittany pulls away from the kiss, telling her she’s straight, and the lack of romantic tensions dawns on both PJ and the audience. It’s as uncomfortable as any rejection naturally would be, but the movie is quick to establish that neither girl feels slighted. They continue on their study non–date, chalking the instance up to a miscalculation on both ends.
Chronic third wheel to the "PJ and Josie Show," is our other leading character Hazel. Harshly described as friendless, a loser, and unlikable, Hazel seeks comfort in the fight club as a means of connecting with other women. But when she’s publicly humiliated by PJ in a fight, she becomes unintentionally involved in a plot to expose the real reason behind the club’s existence. With all of the participating girls disgusted and hurt by how PJ and Josie co–opted a feminist movement for their own personal gain, the two girls hit an even lower bottom than where they started.
The final act of the film culminates in a brawl between the school’s rival football team and the disbanded fight club. It’s murderously violent with bloody cheerleading uniforms, cinematic uppercuts, and body parts splayed across the field. Our cast of girls band together and reignite the spark that originally drove them to the club, saving the day and slaying the stereotypical jock football players, while also giving themselves something to talk through in therapy for the next decade. Josie and Isabel share a passionate kiss, PJ fixes her friendship with Hazel, and Brittany admits to the group that she’s not gay, she just likes gay porn. Josie realizes she can get the girl, and PJ realizes she doesn’t need the girl.
Bottoms is far from a hard hitting critique of toxic high school environments or a deep exploration of being a queer teenager. But it doesn’t need to be either of those things. The film indulges in slapstick, provocative comedy much in the same ways high school comedies like Superbad and Mean Girls did before them. It's an updated version of its Y2K predecessors, only this time for a newer, gayer audience.