Punch Drunk Love: I watch “Bottoms”

Punch Drunk Love: I watch “Bottoms” September 26, 2023

I mean… of course I do. Of course I loved it! I’m going to tell you a little about this movie about teenage lesbian dirtbag jackasses, partly because it’s a really fun movie if you yourself are a lesbian jackass, but there’s also a plot twist that may intrigue my less ridiculous Christian readers.

So okay, “Bottoms” is about PJ (surly-lookin’ Rachel Sennott) and Josie (soulful shlimazl Ayo Edebiri), high schoolers and outcasts–not because they’re gay, but because they’re “gay and untalented.” The problem isn’t that they’re lesbians. It’s that they’re losers. And they totally are! They are lying, scheming, selfish and chaotic little failbots, who are desperate to hook up with cheerleaders. And so they uhhhh start a fight club.

Roll with it! Don’t think too hard! The script here (by Emma Seligman and Sennott) is so smart–knowing exactly when it can skate across thin plot ice because the audience knows what it’s here for and will happily wave dumb ideas to the front of the queue. (The… queue on ice? Roll with it!!!) Dialogue is way smarter than it had to be, with a strong line in real gallows humor–the suicide joke is one of the best in the film, and so is the one about “gray area” rape, which sets up an absolutely electric and heartfelt and insightful silent moment. Great acting–Marshawn Lynch, in a performance which he has said is a way of making amends for the way he reacted when his sister came out, is an especially unexpected delight as the club’s sponsor. The fight-club scenes are pure camp violence; they go so much harder than you’d expect from what’s basically a high-school rom com, and they’re perfectly-choreographed and perfectly-edited. There’s just a lot of skill put into a very weird, indie kind of comedy. So much respect.

The antagonists are the school principal (classic) and the football team, led by self-absorbed but fundamentally canine himbo Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine, cheekboney perfection) and his besotted bro Tim (Miles Fowler). The jocks are cartoons–they always wear their football uniforms. But also, because of the jocks, I found myself having thoughts about the nature of reconciliation that are absolutely not the kind of thing I expected “Bottoms,” of all things, to provoke.

Spoilers below, and if you were ever going to watch “Bottoms” you should go in knowing as little as possible. But if you’ve done that already, or were never going to (lol that’s lots of you, I think), forge on!

Both of our heroines are chaos monsters as well as losers. PJ is more obvious about it, but Josie is also unpopular in part because she’s feral. And this made the moment when they decide they have to save the football players from their murderous rivals feel different, and richer. Like, okay, the script here leans on Save the Cat-type Hollywood plot structures until you can hear them creaking, and that’s why the losers have to save the jocks, it’s just how plots work etc etc, everyone has to come together triumphantly in the finale. But first of all, there are other finale triumphs you could go for: a girlbossy ending where the cheerleader dumps her jock boyfriend (again) and everyone cheers; an ending that totally ignores the jocks; an ending where the jocks, for dumbass and/or misogynist reasons of their own, decide to salvage PJ and Josie’s wrecked plans and set them up with the hot girls of their dreams. That last one could even be fun for me! Instead, “Bottoms” has the losers rescue the winners: the most chaotic move, the most unjustifiable (the script lampshades this), the most humiliating right up until it becomes the most exalting.

PJ and Josie are dumb, like mercy. PJ and Josie are kinda criminal and sleazy, like mercy. PJ and Josie are feral, like mercy.

“Teenage Dirtbag” logo by “Reginamariec,” via Wikimedia Commons.

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