‘Senior Year’ movie review: Rebel Wilson struggles to save Netflix high school comfort flick

A still from ‘Senior Year’

A still from ‘Senior Year’

Netflix’s latest film Senior Year attempts to pay homage to the genre-defining high school rom-coms of the 2000s. Unfortunately, this tribute does little justice to its predecessors and much like its protagonist Stephanie Conway, the film gets lost in its struggle to juggle the present and the past. 

A fish out of water, Stephanie Conway (Angourie Rice) is a heroine we would have loved to feel sorry for. After moving to America from Australia, a teenage Stephanie, with the help of trusty magazine articles and a pin-board to visualise her goals, quickly ascends to the top of the high school social order. This all comes crashing down when a particularly bad accident, during her cheerleading routine, leaves her comatose... right before prom.

Skipping forward 20 years, a 37-year-old Stephanie (now played by Rebel Wilson) miraculously wakes up from the coma to find that while she has aged physically, “mentally she’s still 17”. She then starts off on her mission to return to high school, graduate and win the title of prom queen.

However, the clock has been reset, and as a middle-aged woman, Stephanie is no longer Queen B. A second makeover ensues as she now navigates the new age of social media-fuelled popularity. Throughout this process, she is supported by her father (Chris Parnell), and her childhood friends, Martha (Mary Holland) and Seth (Sam Richardson), who now work at the school.

With colourful visual aesthetics, and a soundtrack featuring Avril Lavigne, Mandy Moore and Fort Minor, Senior Year starts off as a curious time capsule that we have stumbled upon 20 years later. For a moment, it even encourages suspension of disbelief.

However, the cracks start to appear when the film’s plotline falls prey to the expected chiding of the “woke” Gen Z. 

Films like 13 Going on 30 that have followed a similar premise found the comedy in details, with Jennifer Garner stumbling around in her apartment. In contrast, Senior Year, rushes past many such moments that could have lent it the lightness that it needed to stay afloat. Stephanie is shown to be confused by the concept of selfies and social media, but is barely given an explanation before she herself becomes an influencer.

Senior Year
Director: Alex Hardcastle
Cast: Rebel Wilson, Justin Hartley, Sam Richardson, Mary Holland, Chris Parnell, Zoë Chao, and others
Duration: 1 hour 51 minutes
Storyline: After a cheerleading accident, a high school student falls into a coma and wakes up 20 years later, determined to graduate and become the prom queen

Instead, director Alex Hardcastle makes the societal changes a point of contention for Stephanie. The present-day students at Harding High School appear as caricatures written by a bitter adult. They speak in verbose dialogues about social issues, practise cheer routines about climate change, and worry about being filmed because the “media will use it to try and discredit” them when they run for President later. 

The modern generation is shown to be superficial in their concern for causes and obsessed with how they are perceived digitally. They are also routinely shocked by Stephanie’s brashness, whose whole storyline morphs into ‘the adult who is showing these kids to just have some fun’. 

Soon, Senior Year veers far from a trip down memory lane and becomes a projection of millennial frustration at a fast-changing world. It comes off less like reminiscing fondly over simpler times, and becomes an aggressive competition over which generation had it right. Stephanie’s irritation at her cartoonishly-woke classmates becomes less endearing as the film progresses. 

Predictably, the film gives in to a neat and nice ending. All conflicts are resolved after Stephanie does an Instagram live to give a heartfelt speech and hugs it out with Martha at the graduation ceremony, before the whole school breaks out into a final dance routine.

Spoiler alert: One of the film’s best moments is surprise cameo by Alicia Silverstone who plays Deanna Russo — a former student of Harding High — who was crowned prom queen and lived a “perfect life” according to Stephanie. 

On the surface, Senior Year seems to have all the trappings of a nostalgic comfort flick, with dialogues that appear to have been plucked directly from a motivational Instagram page, and explicitly spelled-out lessons on fame being fleeting, one needing to let go of their past to discover their real self... you get the gist. However, any attempt at a saccharine piece of media is thwarted by a plot that is more confused than its protagonist.

Senior Year is currently streaming on Netflix

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Printable version | May 14, 2022 4:06:08 pm |