“Senior Year” is a half-hour comedy about two high-concept premises—the going-back-to-high school film and the waking-up-from-a coma film—that are slammed together in an occasionally amusing but mostly obvious manner.
It’s a decent vehicle for the bawdy charms of Rebel Wilson, who has continued to establish herself as a likeable comic lead beyond being a dependably irreverent sidekick. Angourie Rice’s casting as Wilson’s adolescent self is one of the more inspired choices; she plays her deadpan delivery accurately and genuinely gets to be Australian, which isn’t often the case.
Both ladies are game for all of the zany activities that the film requires of them, which is why “Senior Year” feels like such a missed opportunity. Alex Hardcastle’s feature filmmaking debut plays like a collection of early 2000s references brought to life in a whirlwind. The movie features too many moments that feel like they’re lifted from “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.”
Mentions of CK1 cologne, Smirnoff Ice, and Von Dutch jeans, as well as needle drops from artists such as Nelly and Avril Lavigne, transport you right back to a specific pop culture era. (However, the way “Senior Year” utilizes the Mandy Moore hit “Candy” provides one of the film’s biggest laughs.) However there isn’t much fresh information on this particular period of post-millennium change or about the timeless and poisonous allure of high school popularity.
That’s been Stephanie, a perky blonde, obsessive search for superiority since she moved to the United States from Australia as an awkward 14-year-old. With the help of teen magazines that say “Three Pounds Is the Difference Between Hot and Obese,” she gets herself together, joins the cheerleading squad, dates the dopey football player, and sets her sights on true love: being crowned prom queen.
“If they were this great in high school, you know what a difference it would make to their life as a whole,” Stephanie exclaims as she follows the attractive young married couple down the street who were prom king and queen in their day. This is an actual nugget of truth from Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli, and Brandon Scott Jones: popular individuals generally peak in high school before leaving town to continue feeling like little fish in a big pond.
At a pep rally, Stephanie’s aspirations are dashed when she screws up an ambitious airborne stunt. Was it Tiffany, her rival and fellow cheerleader, who caused the problem? Whatever the cause, Stephanie falls into a coma for 20 years and wakes up in 2022. When she comes to, it’s suddenly 2022 and phones and flat-screen TVs have been invented. Her kindhearted widower father (Chris Parnell) has kept her childhood bedroom exactly as it was (complete with “Clueless” and P!nk posters) for all these years. Even though she’s 37 years old now, her first impulse is to go back to high school and fulfill her destiny of becoming prom queen.
Wilson, a newly slim and fit Wilson, dons the cheerleader uniform and a pouf of green ponytail bow before diving into all of the fish-out-of-water comedy. She doesn’t exploit her cultural difference with wide-eyed histrionics, but rather with her trademark understatement. But because it’s such an excellent and consistently amusing technique, you wish she’d come up with more intelligent things to say about how many “Fast and Furious” movies have emerged in the past two decades.
Despite this, Wilson has a good connection with Mary Holland (“Happiest Season”) and Sam Richardson (“Veep”) as the two outcast pals who have stayed by Stephanie’s side all along. (Mary in particular has great comic timing.) Justin Hartley appears as the attractive adult version of her high school flame, now married to Tiffany (Zoë Chao), her mean-girl rival. It’s a strong supporting cast, but they don’t get much to do beyond a few personality traits.
But if “Senior Year” is attempting to convey anything about how young people live now, it isn’t doing so with much power or clarity. Stephanie is devastated to learn that her former high school lacks any more popular kids or cliquey cafeteria tables, no more suggestive cheer routines, and—worst of all—no longer has a prom king and queen.
This is the age of everyone being rewarded, and it’s good if you post on social media about how enthusiastic you are about the environment. Is Senior Year mocking this cultural change as a negative thing, as performative “wokeness,” to use a reductive phrase? Or does it applaud it as a necessary transition from an outmoded perspective?
It doesn’t make much of a difference. It’ll slot in just fine with the Netflix cool kids as long as the script contains the usual cross-promotional references to shows such as “Bridgerton” and “Tiger King.”
Now playing on Netflix or CinemaHD.
Senior Year (2022)
Rebel Wilson as Stephanie
Angourie Rice as Young Stephanie Conway
Mary Holland as Martha
Molly Brown as Young Martha Reiser
Sam Richardson as Seth
Zaire Adams as Young Seth Novacelik
Zoë Chao as Tiffany
Ana Yi Puig as Young Tiffany Blanchette
Justin Hartley as Blaine
Tyler Barnhardt as Young Blaine Balboa
Jade Bender as Brie Loves
Chris Parnell as Jim Conway
Brandon Scott Jones
Movie Rating: 2.0/5