Released: 13th May
Seen: 15th May
For some reason, there seems to be a strange genre of film where an adult finds some weird reason to go back to high school in order to have shenanigans happen. This can be some weird undercover cop story like a 21 Jump Street scenario or it might just be some rich idiot buying his way back into a school scenario of some kind. Often the reasons are stupid and don’t hold up to any scrutiny but often lead to relatively fun situations… Senior Year has one of the stupidest reasons to have an adult go back to high school that we’ve seen in a while and it’s accompanied by some of the least interesting shenanigans one could imagine.
Senior Year follows a young cheerleader named Stephanie Conway (Angourie Rice) who isn’t very popular until one day she just decides she wants to make herself popular and so she does exactly that, turning herself into the head cheerleader and getting the hot boyfriend and all that crap that would be an interesting movie in itself but we have no time for that. That would be interesting and you can probably tell, we’re not here for interesting.
One day during a routine, Stephanie is dropped in a way that somehow puts her into a coma for 20 years and when she wakes up (which is when she starts being played by Rebel Wilson) instead of wondering “What’s this about a plague?” “Why are there so many white supremacists about?” or “Wait, why are there so many people wearing red hats who look like they have their dicks stuck in their siblings?”, she’s focused primarily on the prom queen title that she almost won when she was a child. Cue an hour and a half of Rebel Wilson walking around with a bunch of kids who look like they’re in the senior year of high school and a lot of very forced comedy, product placement and dance sequences and you have this movie.
Part of the major problem with Senior Year is simple… Stephanie is an incredibly unlikeable character from the second we meet her until the very end. She’s an obnoxious imitation of what an adult might think a popular girl would sound like and no matter who is playing her, she just doesn’t work. It’s hard to have sympathy for her because she is just annoying and not even in a way that’s funny, just in a way that makes you kind of wish she’d go back into a coma again so she’d shut the fuck up. We don’t even really get a glimpse of why people might actually like her or of the sweet person who we’ll hopefully get to see by the end of the film, we just have to assume she’ll eventually stop being annoying
Not only is Senior Year not funny but, especially when she becomes the adult Stephanie, it’s just incredibly forced which is largely because that’s kind of how Rebel Wilson comes across in these roles. When she’s playing quirky side characters, like in The Hustle, it can sometimes work but as a lead that we’re meant to care about, anything natural or real about the character is pushed aside for this badly overacted caricature of what a 90s teenager might behave like if they were transplanted into 2022.
Sometimes you can see a glimmer of an idea there, like in a scene where Stephanie has to have it explained that the terms “Gay” or “Retarded” are now considered slurs and shouldn’t be used as casually as people used them in the 90s. This would suggest that there could be a lot more references to how things we accepted in the 90s just aren’t OK anymore, how society has grown past that period where being an edgelord all the time was acceptable but Senior Year doesn’t ever really do that. It just moves on and Stephanie instantly changes based on one halfhearted conversation in a car.
It anything Senior Year kind of tries to portray all young people from any era as annoying and stupid, with modern kids now so hyperwoke that no one bats an eye at the popular jock wearing a kilt without anything underneath (Don’t worry, they pixelate the dick of the 22-year-old playing a teenager, it’s not that bad) or the cheerleaders doing cheers about consent and the environment in a way that makes it hard to believe that the people who made this have even met anyone under the age of 20.
There are, admittedly, a few moments in Senior Year that really do make good use of the concept. For example, the principal Martha Reiser (Mary Holland) talking about how she couldn’t come out as a gay teenager back in the 90s is a poignant scene that really helps show the intense change that happens in those 20 years, since this film also features a lot of teenagers who are openly gay without anyone caring (because being an openly gay or trans teen isn’t a big deal, unless you’re a fucking asshole). It’s a good scene that’s well performed and has a lot of gravitas to it… this is in the same film that refers to USB flash drives as Computer Tampons, so you can see how this film isn’t exactly equipped to handle its heavier subjects that well.
Then there’s just the utter lack of follow up on major events. The accident that put Stephanie in a coma is actually orchestrated by her rival Tiffany (Zoë Chao) and it’s never brought up even a little. Tiffany’s husband Blaine (Justin Hartley) used to be Stephanie’s boyfriend and they bring up the idea that Blaine actually cheated on Tiffany but it’s a throwaway bit that means nothing. If a story isn’t badly followed up on, it’s poorly explained. Hell, I spent half the movie believing that Stephanie’s father had married Martha (who, I will point out, was Stephanie’s friend in high school) just because of how they presented things.
What really sucks is that everyone involved here is more than talented enough to make this kind of idea actually work. The idea behind Senior Year isn’t a complete dud, it just needed a little more thought put into it. Events needed better setups to make sure the payoff worked, the jokes needed to be improved and a couple more adjustments could’ve fixed a ton of the plot issues but that would’ve probably made for a good movie and Netflix seems content to just churn out below average movies while also wondering why they’re losing subscribers.
Senior Year is just an unfunny, forced and dated film. How dated? It breaks in the middle to recreate the Crazy music video and then ends with another big dance number featuring the entire cast, just like any cheesy 90s movie… except those cheesy 90s movies usually had something fun to offer and Senior Year just never has that. It doesn’t use its concept or its actors in any interesting way and after a while, you just have to wonder why this was a story worth telling.