Bottoms by Emma Seligman: When Queer Mediocrity Wins

Image Credit: Metro Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Editor Tessa Ndjonkou reviews Emma Seligman’s sophomore project Bottoms and explores how it excels in its celebration of teenage failure and ineptitude.

“Can the ugly, untalented gays please report to the principle’s office?”

Not to be confused with a line from hated and beloved satire-comedy Glee, this humor packed one-liner introduced audiences to Bottoms and instantly made it a classic. By combining the directorial flair of the queen of teenage ennui herself, Emma Seligman and the weird-girl star power of the Edebiri-Sennott duo, we’ve finally filled the void in teen sex comedies. 

Where Diary of A Wimpy Kid and Booksmart made its “loser” protagonists somewhat redeemable, Bottoms does not even try. Not only are they at the metaphorical “bottom” of the Rockbridge Falls High School totem pole, they likely will never escape it despite their best efforts. While pretending to foster a safe and healthy environment free of toxic masculinity at their school, they create a fight club to get with the girls they deem the most attractive. And thus an anti-fight-club is born. Indeed, David Fincher’s 1999 cult film has often been dubbed a metaphor for homoeroticism and used as a reference for filmic commentary on homosociability. 

But Bottoms has no trouble coming out of the closet. In fact, most of its main characters are openly queer and fascinatingly… uninteresting by high school standards. Their clothes are still endearingly frumpy and unfashionable (“You look like a little Dutch boy”) and they can hardly get through a conversation without stuttering or being offensive. Bless.

While “coming-out” stories matter and the stories of exceptional queer people should be platformed, how refreshing is it to get a break and enjoy queer mediocrity? Even when teen comedies wanted to demonstrate “girlfailures”, they never seemed to quite hit the mark. 

While “coming-out” stories matter and the stories of exceptional queer people should be platformed, how refreshing is it to get a break and enjoy queer mediocrity?

A fan-favorite “girlfailure” is Hazel Callahan, a wide-eyed soft-masc with a penchant for arson and delayed combustion who has captured the hearts of audiences worldwide. Ruby Cruz portrays her with a refreshing earnestness and in doing so, honors Joseph Gordon Levitt’s performance as Cameron James in 10 Things I Hate About You and Clea DuVall’s as Graham  in But I’m a Cheerleader

Another notable standout performance is Marshawn Lynch’s acting debut as Mr.G, a mildly inappropriate and misandrist sports coach who longs for companionship and any excuse to blame his plight on women. At the cross-section of both the “nice guy” and the friendly giant, he pulls on audiences heartstrings because of his inexplicable although genuine affection for PJ and Josie. 

Last but certainly not least, the soundtrack. The collaboration between Leo Birenberg’s synth and Charli XCX’s sultry voice adds the necessary gravitas to the appropriate scenes. The reprise of the same chord progression when Josie reveals her troubled past titled ‘Josie at Juvie’ is also heard during ‘Be With’, when Josie and Isabel finally get together. Both scores punctuate moments where Isabel finally sees Josie. 

Hailed as both the return of classic teenage comedies with perfectly unlikeable characters and proof of how far queer representation has come, this modern pastiche of Fight Club is a masterclass on knowing your cast and your audience. Although its commentary on the pitfalls of toxic masculinity do hit home, it's also just a movie that chronicles just how far sapphics are willing to go to speak to girls they like… including doing anything but speak to them.