Before the LGBTQ teen sex comedy “Bottoms” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival Saturday, festival director Claudette Godfrey told the Paramount Theater audience to prepare themselves for an experience that defied description. That’s largely what they got.
The movie stars Rachel Sennott (“Bodies, Bodies, Bodies”) and Ayo Edebiri (“The Bear”) as high schoolers who decide to form a girls’ fight club — technically, a self-defense club — in order to convince the two hottest cheerleaders in school to sleep with them. What unfolds isn’t quite like any high school sex comedy before it, which was exactly what director Emma Seligman (“Shiva Baby”) — who wrote the screenplay with Sennott — set out to do.
“I wanted to create a teen female queer story where the characters were not undergoing trauma but also weren’t these perfect, sweet, innocent beings,” Seligman said in the audience Q&A following the premiere. “We wanted to create messy, complicated, selfish, corny teen female characters that we could relate to.” (Seligman was supposed to premiere her feature directing debut with Sennott, “Shiva Baby,” at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.)
Sennott said she also wanted to be matter-of-fact about how much the characters would already know about sex. “Sometimes it’s like the girls discover a vibrator in the couch and they’re like, ‘Oh my god! What is it?! We’re scared!’” Sennott said. “It’s not that scary. It’s blue. We all have, like, six in the drawer. We just wanted to go there and be real with that.”
The SXSW audience roared with laughter throughout the movie, even when Seligman’s heightened comedic approach tipped into shockingly violent or disquieting places.
“We were trying to make a satire and we wanted to be able to reflect the times that we’re in,” Seligman said. “I don’t think we’re doing our job properly unless we’re making a high school movie that actually takes place in a high school that people can relate to right now. So that’s where that darkness came in.”
The theme of allowing LGBTQ audiences to see themselves in ways they rarely, if ever, had been able to before carried over to the cast as well, many of whom shared how they connected to their characters in the film.
“If I had seen this when I was 16, this probably would have made my life slightly easier — and then maybe slightly harder as well,” Edebiri said.
Model and actor Havana Rose Liu (“No Exit”), who plays the love interest of Edebiri’s character, said that, as someone who is pansexual herself, she appreciated that her character’s drama “exists outside of a discovery of her sexuality” rather than being defined by it.
As for the title, Seligman said it was simple: “I just love a good double entendre. They’re losers and they’re gay!”