In 1999, high school cheerleader captain Stephanie (Angourie Rice) seems to be on the way to a perfect life: popular in school, a trophy boyfriend and imminently to be elected prom queen…at least until an accident during a routine puts her into a coma for 20 years. Awakening in an unfamiliar body (Rebel Wilson) and a very strange new world, Stephanie determines to finish her senior year of high school and create the life she felt she was destined for.
Rebel Wilson has priors with questionable streaming rom-coms, having largely failed to impress me with 2019’s Isn’t It Romantic, a premise-heavy effort at making something out of a very overplayed genre. Now, three years on, she’s trying it again, and while this is less of a rom-com than a coming-of-age dramedy, the results are still largely the same: Senior Year relaxes into the absurdity of its premise a bit too much, at the expense of nearly everything else. In essence, it is a film that is trying to distract you from its shallowness by emphasising the yucks that can be mined from the idea of a near-40-year-old acting like a teenager, and mistaking Lady Gaga for Madonna. Even thinking about it for a few minutes you can see the potential in this sort of idea, like the comparisons that could be made between Mean Girls-esque high school elites of 1999 being replaced by faux-woke influencers in 2022, but Senior Year isn’t the film to work with that kind of dichotomy or make any worthwhile satire along those lines.
The reason why it even comes close to working is Wilson herself. I still think she has been pigeon-holed to a degree, expected to take on the mantle of Melissa McCarthy in terms of a female comedian prone to movies where she spends half the time pratfalling. But she has chops, timing and confidence in execution that is obvious. It was much the same in Isn’t It Romantic really, with Wilson again showcasing herself as a better comedic actress than the material she has been saddled with. At times, it can be quite funny – any scene with Mary Holland, playing Stephanie’s former friend who is now the principal of the high school, any scene with Chris Parnell as Stephanie’s dad and any of the few moments when you get a sliver of the kind of deadpan sarcastic wit that calls to mind Bridesmaids – but more often than not it is struggling with bland swipes at millennials and any number of physical comedy bits that Wilson is adept at but feels increasingly out of place in 2022. Think politically incorrect person meets political correct world and you will understand half of the film before you see it, with the other half consisting of weird shout outs to things like Tiger King.
Senior Year also livens up whenever Sam Richardson, whom I last saw and enjoyed in Werewolves Within and is here playing the mandatory love interest, is on the screen, with he and Wilson having an easy chemistry (we’ll just leave aside the implications of the 30-something librarian dating a woman with the mind of a 17-year-old: the film certainly does) and I suppose that it does have some half-decent messages regards the poisonous invasiveness of social media in the modern age and how arenas like education have never been more of a cultural minefield. But that isn’t enough to make Senior Year worth the effort. Caught between being a drama about a girl trying to live up to the warped expectations of yesteryear and the comedy of a past-it woman trying to be a cheerleader, the end result is something that is only passable at best. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Netflix).