Senior Year, 2022.
Directed by Alex Hardcastle.
Starring Rebel Wilson, Justin Hartley, Angourie Rice, Sam Richardson, Zoe Chao, Mary Holland, Chris Parnell, Jade Bender, Alicia Silverstone, Brandon Scott Jones, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Michael Cimino, Tyler Barnhardt, Molly Brown, Avantika, Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Lucy Taylor, Joshua Colley, Merrick McCartha, Ana Yi Puig, Zaire Adams, Tyler Barnhardt, Allie Nicole Szatmary, and Steve Aoki.
A cheerleading stunt gone wrong landed her in a 20-year coma. Now she’s 37, newly awake, and ready to live out her high school dream: becoming prom queen.
In terms of comedy, the only kind thing there is to say about director Alex Hardcastle’s Senior Year is that star Rebel Wilson is not subjected to a barrage of bottom-of-the-barrel jokes about her figure. That’s also because the actress has slimmed down considerably, now playing the role of a cheerleader, taking on different kinds of physical challenges. On that note alone, it’s easy to see why she might be drawn to the screenplay from Brandon Scott Jones, Andrew Knauer, and Arthur Pielli, eager to do something different, but the results here are genuinely dreadful; Senior Year is an assemblage of terrible ideas and somehow even worse execution. It’s an aggressively and crudely unfunny two hours to arrive at the obvious point of showing your true self instead of a fake version for popularity. Be unique and different rather than popular.
Played by Angourie Rice as an actual high school senior, Stephanie neglects her real friends (dorky bookworm Seth and unpopular Martha) to join the cheerleading squad and prepare for a future. Ashamed of her Australian accent and not fitting in with the cool kids, she perceives beauty, popularity, and titles such as prom queen as the key to a successful life (as evident by a former prom queen living in a luxurious home). She also doesn’t give the respectful, romantically interested but shy nerd any attention considering she convinced the hottest guy in school, Blaine, to break up with his beautiful girlfriend Tiffany for her, maintaining a “relationship” that’s mostly publicly fondling the breasts area of her cheerleading uniform. Except for Seth and Martha, these characters are irritating from the get-go, but once it becomes clear that Stephanie’s motivation for winning Prom Queen comes from a personal tragedy involving the death of her terminally ill mother, there is an undercurrent of shamelessly forced melodrama beneath all the selfish, gratingly annoying behavior.
Keep in mind, this is only roughly the first 15 minutes of Senior Year, which sees the fake friends intentionally let Stephanie crash to the floor skull first during a cheer routine set to catchy 2000s jam Hot in Herre by Nelly. It turns out such an incident left Stephanie in a coma for 20 years, where she wakes up in 2022 physically aged (and now played by Rebel Wilson), still with the mind of a 17-year-old. What ensues is an onslaught of fish-out-of-water humor as Stephanie gets reacquainted with everyone in her past (the warm and polite Sam Richardson now plays Seth, Blaine is Justin Hartley, now married to Zoe Chao’s Tiffany, and Mary Holland is Martha), with everyone conveniently working for the school assisting with getting Stephanie reenrolled to finish her final month of high school. She still treats them like garbage.
The real reason Stephanie wants to go back is to fulfill her dream of becoming prom queen. There’s also a moment where Senior Year flashes back to the teenage Stephanie, leading one to believe that the script will stick with both ages of the character, but it’s really for an emotionally manipulative sequence with her sick mother. More to the point, the first 30 or so minutes come across as highly confused, as if even when writing the script, the filmmakers didn’t know where they wanted the focus to be. However, this is practically a moot point considering that whether it’s 2002 or 2022, Senior Year only uses its characters for cheap jokes. Even gags about inclusivity and political correctness come across as lazy here.
It’s hard to figure out what the screenwriters fail at more; scoring laughs through a grounded depiction of high school life or social media. Either way, Stephanie must earn the friendship of Instagram influencer Bri (Jade Bender), the daughter of her high school rival Tiffany to get the prom king and queen competition reinstated (it rewards outdated gender roles). There appear to be jokes about how some people embody performative wokeness to further themselves in life (in defense of Bri, the misguided aspects come from her mom’s pressure) that fall flat and don’t go anywhere. Earlier in the film, Stephanie’s dad (Chris Parnell) is suggested to get back on the dating scene, wherein in the present day it’s teased that he has developed something with his daughter’s best friend Martha, which is not only gross and not funny but turns out to be misdirection for something else that is slapped together with no direction. Meanwhile, Stephanie befriends a pair of misfit seniors, which grows to become the only tolerable thing about the movie as she slowly learns the upside of embracing uniqueness.
Still, for far too long, all of these characters, especially Stephanie, are overwhelmingly tasteless, crass, and annoyingly self-centered to be around. The concept is in troubling taste and continues to bring about problematic elements that would be forgivable if the movie elicited any laughs. I would say Senior Year is most likely to crash and burn, but the film does that itself two minutes in.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com