Credit: Boris Martin/Netflix
by Steven Warner Featured Film Streaming Scene

Senior Year — Alex Hardcastle

May 13, 2022

Senior Year is an inconsistent, scattershot vanity project for Rebel Wilson, tanking every potentially interesting angle in favor of lame mugging.

Austin Powers meets Never Been Kissed in director Alex Hardcastle’s Senior Year, a Netflix production that exists solely as a star vehicle for Australian comedienne and Pitch Perfect scene-stealer Rebel Wilson, and by those standards fulfills its requirements. It’s merely in every other facet that the movie falls flat on its face, a ridiculously overlong plea for tolerance and acceptance from one of the most disingenuous actresses working today. It’s 1998, and we are introduced to the sweet but shy Stephanie (Angourie Rice), who is celebrating her 14th birthday at a local bowling alley with her two dorky friends Martha and Seth and staring admiringly at the so-called cool kids. Vowing then and there to become popular, we cut ahead four years and Stephanie is living the life of every teenage girl’s dream, dating the high school quarterback and eternally at war with the catty Tiffany. But a freak cheerleading accident launches Stephanie into a 20-year coma, waking up in 2022 only to discover that the world around her has drastically changed — as has her appearance, since she is now played by Wilson — even as she retains the intellect and life experience of a 17-year-old. Luckily, Martha (Mary Holland, who deserves so much better than this) is now principal of her former high school, which allows Stephanie to return as a 37-year-old desperate to accomplish three specific goals: become the most popular girl in school, be named cheerleading captain, and take on the mantle of prom queen.

Given that conceit, it shouldn’t surprise that Senior Year is just one joke recycled ad nauseum: a grown-ass woman acting like a teenager, but with the added twist of her being hopelessly out of date. An argument could be made that any 37-year-old returning to high school would be similarly afflicted, but the fact that the film never even once acknowledges this fact belies the stupidity at its heart. So little is done with this particular plot wrinkle that it’s hard to determine why screenwriters Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli, and Brandon Scott Jones even bothered with it, save for an excuse to have Wilson to engage in a reenactment of Britney Spears’s “(You Drive Me) Crazy” music video… which is from 1998, and which a senior year student in 2002 wouldn’t be caught dead doing, so fast the trends change. Indeed, all of Senior Year is obsessed with 1998 pop culture to a degree that one has to wonder why they didn’t just set the film four years prior, reflecting the laziness that oozes out of this film’s every pore. (For the record, we also all know why it wasn’t — this is the very definition of a “vanity project” for its star, consistency be damned.) Really, the only facet of modern-day life that proves the least bit interesting to Stephanie is social media, and how popularity can now be concretely measured in likes and followers. But the film proves equally inept in its articulation of this detail, with Stephanie being sent swag by dozens of influential brands because a video of her and her cheerleading squad doing a risqué routine gets 49,000 likes, which is Riddler-in-The Batman-level numbers in the grand scheme of things.

In the 2022 high school life of Senior Year, there are no more cliques, and everyone is accepting and woke — expect not really, because the cheerleading squad doesn’t get invited to parties because they are seen as a sexist tradition, even though they now do cheers about abstinence and gun control. It’s also telling that the film’s portrayal of outsiders is embodied by a gay male, an Indian female, and an overweight kid, because that doesn’t promote harmful stereotypes at all, even as the film goes out of its way to paint the prom king as gender-neutral and who at one point exclaims, “I want to get spit-roasted by two leather daddies.” If anyone involved in the production had bothered to pick a lane, it would have made for a far more enriching experience, even as Wilson is at one point shown humping a wall when her dad (Chris Parnell) takes away her new cell phone. Meanwhile, former rival Tiffany (Zoe Chao) is now married to ex-beau Blaine (Justin Hartley), her daughter Bri (Jade Bender) is the queen bee, and Seth (Sam Richardson) is now the school librarian and still holding a torch for his best friend.

Senior Year has roughly 28 subplots, none of which are developed in a meaningful way. The film keeps hinting at something more — such as Martha’s tearful admission that the high school promotes equality above all because she was afraid of coming out as gay as a teenager — but keeps getting sidelined by the Rebel Wilson show, where subtlety and anything resembling reality go to die. It’s near impossible to determine who this film was made for: middle-aged people looking for a bit of nostalgia don’t need messaging this simplistic, while teenagers likely won’t understand the majority of the references. Wilson, meanwhile, mugs through it all, unable to appear genuine for even a moment of the film’s runtime, even as the movie keeps hitting big emotional beats that are completely unearned. That this woman can’t even pretend to appear interested when her co-stars are interacting with her tells you everything you need to know, as does the fact that the film ends with not one, but two cast dance parties. Apparently, Senior Year was much more fun to make than it is to actually watch. Thanks for rubbing it in.

You can currently stream Alex Hardcastle’s Senior Year on Netflix.