May 14, 2022

“Senior Year” Brings Back the 90s Teen Movie, with a Twist (Review)

Getting older can be scary. I’m 19, so I don’t feel qualified to speak accurately on the fears of rapidly getting older without meaningful accomplishment, but it’s a subject that Senior Year, a new comedy straight from Netflix, takes in stride.

Image courtesy of Netflix

We’re first introduced to Stephanie Conway, an Australian immigrant who just wants to be one of the popular girls. It’s the late 90s, prime time of the Mean Girls-esque cliques, harmful stereotypes and popular teen movies that gave every impressionable schoolchild unrealistic expectations about high school. However, Senior Year is itself one of those high school movies, and Stephanie succeeds in her quest: she becomes the most popular girl in school, and by default becomes insufferable and rude to her supposed best friends.

At first, Stephanie is played by Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys, Spider-Man), finally getting the chance to use her native Aussie accent in a quasi-mainstream film! After a cheerleading accident, shortly before the completion of her final year of high school, Stephanie gets thrown into a coma that she only emerges from two decades later, now played by Rebel Wilson.

The most interesting part of Senior Year, to me, is Stephanie’s perspective. She’s a human time capsule, still stuck in the year 2002, as a 17-year-old in a 37-year-old body. She goes through various phases of denial, acceptance, and everything in between, as she struggles with losing twenty years of her life. It got me thinking about life in general, and the expectations of living a fulfilling life versus the inevitable realities that will disrupt those dreams. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t willing to go too in-depth with this, and elects to fill itself with a formulaic story, cheap gags and enough tropes to fill a very deep bucket.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Stephanie’s life is in shambles when she wakes up. Her father (Rick and Morty’s Chris Parnell) isn’t sure how to parent her, one of her friends (The Afterparty’s Sam Richardson) still has a crush on her, and her former boyfriend is married to her high school rival and living in their dream house. She solicits her best friend, Martha (The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window’s Mary Holland), now the principal of their high school, to allow her back in so she can finish up her senior year and make it memorable. That’s when the culture shock sets in.

It’s a perfect segue back to the philosophical aspect: Senior Year highlights just how much the world has changed in the twenty years that Stephanie has been asleep, which, ironically enough, is the world I grew up in. Certain words are not okay to say freely anymore, and Gen-Z finds itself the brunt of the joke more often than not — I will choose not to be personally offended. The people it’s poking fun at, for the most part, are stereotypes themselves. Unfortunately, none of this breaks any new ground, and the halfhearted attempt at commentary mostly falls flat.

One thing that it does get right is that kids can be mean and petty, but so can adults. And while Stephanie ages physically but not mentally (with a coma as an excuse), the same can be said for some of her peers. If I was studying psychology, I’m sure I’d have a lot more interesting points to bring up about developmental growth and the like, but alas, I’m just a humble film critic.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Senior Year brings up some thought-provoking points about aging, culture, and in the words of a surprise cameo character, being “excited about the future instead of holding onto the past.” For the most part, it’s far more content with being a ridiculous, and occasionally hilarious, uplifting comedy that isn’t particularly focused on having any sort of deep discussion.

Senior Year is streaming on Netflix.

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