Film Review: Senior Year
Director: Alex Hardcastle
Broken Road Productions
Streaming on Netflix 05.13
There have been many teenager movies and high school comedies in the past five years, but the marked difference in attitude—and in casting—from those that were made in the early 2000s is significant. Senior Year, the new Rebel Wilson vehicle, is keenly aware of this fact and sets out to satirize and capitalize on it.
Senior Year begins in 2002 when high school cheerleader Stephanie Conway (Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys, Mare of Easttown) is working obsessively toward being elected prom queen. When Stephanie suffers a head injury in a cheer stunt gone wrong, she falls into a coma and awakens to find that it’s 20 years later (she’s now played by Wilson). Steph is determined to make up for lost time, taking the unusual route of using a rather unconvincing loophole to get back into high school, finish her senior year and fulfill her destiny of being elected prom queen.
Senior Year is Wilson’s first starring role since losing 77 pounds, but I found aspects of that to be troubling. In films such as Pitch Perfect 2 or The Hustle, the cheap jokes about her figure have been disturbingly mean spirited, and often the joke has been to lean into Chris Farley–style slob comedy. I’m all for something different, but there’s an uncomfortable implication being made that weight makes literally all the difference between a gross-out comic and a beauty queen. The abrupt shift isn’t so much empowering Wilson as body shaming anyone who used to see her as someone to identify with on some level. There’s also the serious question of whether a teen losing 20 years of her life to a coma is anything to be laughing about in the first place. I’m a believer that you have to take some risks with comedy, but the moments of schmaltz in Senior Year draw attention to just how much trauma and pain would be involved if this were a real world scenario, and even a single scene trying to address that would have been nice.
Wilson has some strong moments, but the biggest saving grace of Senior Year comes from the delightful performances of Mary Holland (Happiest Season) and Sam Richardson (The Afterparty) as Steph’s best friends, Martha and Seth, respectively. I’d watch either of these two actors in anything, and Senior Year is easy enough to enjoy whenever one of them is on screen. Rice is another personal favorite, but she and Wilson never really feel like the same person—the Australian accent and block locks are not nearly enough to make them feel like the same person.
The screenplay by Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli and Brandon Scott Jones finds some humor in the culture clash of 2002 vs. 2022, but it’s superficial and doesn’t come with any particular insight. Sitcom director Alex Hardcastle is competent but nothing more, doing little here to persuade anyone that he should be doing features. While Senior Year doesn’t entirely succeed in its attempt to engender a positive message, it doesn’t entirely fail, either.
Senior Year is crass and stupid, and yet there are just enough working elements to make the film something you’ll have an easy enough time streaming once. Still, the idea that it was ever being considered as something worth putting in movie theaters almost makes me sad, and it’s a perfect example of the difference between “content” and entertainment. –Patrick Gibbs