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SXSW Review: Bottoms

The cast of the new film, Bottoms.
Photo Credit: SXSW

The public reception of Bottoms will be fascinating.

It’s no doubt a good movie but one that will have rabid supporters and haters. Probably more of the latter considering director Emma Seligman’s absurdist vision on top of the LGBTQ love story coming at a time of culture wars dividing the nation more and more.

As for myself, I find myself somewhere in the middle leaning toward disliking Bottoms as an experimental project which has a very specific vibe to fully connect with. But stepping back from my initial, stronger disappointment straight out of the SXSW screening on Sunday, it’s kind of astounding that Seligman decided to make a movie that could have been in the catalog of Jean-Luc Godard or Luis Bunuel. It feels like if Dr. Strangelove was a gay high school comedy. 

About time that someone else tried to put true absurdity into the mainstream besides Yorgos Lanthimos. My appreciation truly mounts with each moment I think of all Bottoms is trying. It’s a weird and fascinating film.

For all of its elements that I recognize — and Seligman and the cast are absolutely fully committed to the bit — it still flatlines a bit by creating this completely nonsensical universe. 

A high concept movie, it’s easy to recap. Two gay high schoolers played by Rachel Sennott (Bodies Bodies Bodies) and Ayo Adebiri (The Bear) start a fight club masquerading as women-empowerment club at school so they can hookup with their crushes. They’re absolutely the highlights of the movie. All the while, they’re being oppressed by the school system that is ostensibly run by the football team.

But here’s the twist. The football team isn’t your normal high school movie team.

The players all wear full uniform every single second on-screen. Even when the captain is caught having an affair with a student’s mom, he’s got his shoulder pads on. Jersey numbers are nonensical, like “01,” and the team is comprised of maybe 10 players whose practices look more like recess instead of actual training. And when the big game finally comes, the supposedly huge rival team has no fans in the stands. Seligman has taken every step to make sure viewers know she’s messing with them.

Add in Super Bowl winning running back Marshawn Lynch as a teacher who’s roped into sponsoring this fight club, Bottoms absolutely commits to the bit, paving a path for the the audience to accept the absurd violence that this school not only allows but encourages. This is a world where a rival school has an annual tradition of killing one player, which becomes the rallying point for the fight club girls to save the day.

Bottoms is not just quirky or weird. It’s aggressively absurd. But it’s only for a few people with very specific tastes, who will absolutely love it. As for me, I sit in the middle, which might be the rarest reaction.

Bottoms hits select theaters on August 25th


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