Reviews of Films I Haven’t Seen: Bottoms

This week, I will be talking about Bottoms, an LGBTQ+ take on the raunchy high school sex comedy genre. First, though, due to overwhelming demand from my legions of fans (consisting of my mother and a few close friends, but don’t tell anyone, okay?), I feel compelled to reveal this non-reviewer’s origin story.

How did I develop x-ray vision, this ability to review films I have not seen? The story begins in 1971 in the affluent, verdant suburb of Scarsdale, New York, when I was in the first grade. My mother decided that I should not be allowed to watch television on school nights. She felt, reasonably, that TV was a dangerous waste of time and that I could stimulate my imagination better by doing complete loser activities like playing outside, drawing pictures, and practicing my violin.

I proceeded to spend the next 10 years of my life pretending that I had seen all the popular shows. When my classmates guffawed about The Fonz or Vinnie Barbarino, I laughed along—while adding some witticisms I had gleaned from the tiny particles of television that floated across my field of vision. Thus was a non-reviewer born.

My mother’s well-intentioned plan to keep me away from 1970s TV trash bore fruit when I decided to major in film studies in college. Assuming all the accessories of the cliche, including a black turtleneck, and beret, I became an insufferable film snob.

Whatever the movie, I had an irritating word about, a derivative interprétation stolen from Cahiers du Cinema. I didn’t talk about mis en scene. That was too pedestrian. I pontificated about mis en shot, the placement of the camera, the choice of lenses. Is it any wonder I never got laid in all four years of school?

A study abroad program in ethnographic filmmaking, funded by my generous, cultured parents, amplified my pretensions to a point where I outgrew them and decided to go Hollywood. My reaction to childhood TV deprivation had metastasized into a career in the television industry. I worked as an assistant, and later as a script development executive for Edgar Scherick, a prominent producer who started his career by creating ABC’s Wide World of Sports. After serving as President of ABC, he produced movies like The Stepford Wives and The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.

In my role as a development exec for Scherick and “Executive in Charge of Production” for several made for TV movies, I was expected to have cute opinions about every current movie and TV show. I felt pressure to be authoritative about the quality of the writing and directing, often for movies you’d barely heard of. I honed my skills as a film review imposter. Though I left the business years ago, my urge to comment on films and TV shows, without actually watching them, persists.

With those fascinating revelations in mind, let’s get back to Bottoms. The movie, directed and co-written by Emma Seligman, stars Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri as high school lesbian outcasts. They’re the “bottoms” here, the bottom of the school’s brutal social hierarchy who spend their time bemoaning their lack of looks and talent while lusting after the popular cheerleaders. They’re walking the genre’s well-worn path of dweeby virgins, except they’re dreaming of a girl meets girl romance.

Like all nerdy antiheroes, Sennott and Edebiri come up with a preposterous, gag-filled scheme to date the girls of their dreams. Claiming that safety is a problem at the school, they establish a girls-only self defense class, which turns in a surprisingly bloody fight club. The football team, the alpha male studs who rule the school, disapprove. The cheerleaders are intrigued. Hilarity ensues, as are some lesbian makeout sessions.

Reactions to the film have been mixed. Most reviews have been kind, though the New Yorker’s perspective is probably the most on point: It’s a pretty mediocre movie, lacking in originality but still charming and funny in places. And, maybe that’s the triumph here. Our society has evolved in its acceptance of gays and lesbians to the point where we can all enjoy a stupid teen sex comedy about them.

It was not always so. When I worked in TV in 1989, NBC rejected a miniseries adaptation of I, an important book about the early days of the AIDS epidemic, because it was “too gay for American audiences.” The TV movie An Early Frost was considered daring because it took on the subject of AIDS and gay life—prompting my gay roommate to quip, “Just what American needs… another poignant drama about fags…”

Films and TV shows that dealt with homosexuality were controversial, overwrought, or both. Over time, attitudes have changed. A majority of Americans no longer have a problem with LGBTQ+ people. Indeed, as most of us now understand, they are our friends and neighbors, even if we didn’t know that before.

All of which is making certain elements in our society and political power structures dangerously enraged. While the real America is a country where we can have a good laugh at a silly film like Bottoms, the self-proclaimed “real Americans” want to kill us for having said laugh. It’s not funny, you see. Teachers who discuss this matter should be arrested, or maybe shot dead on the spot. As the Pulse nightclub massacre revealed, these are not idle threats.

Let’s hope that movies like Bottoms inspire us to be brave in the face of hatred.