'Senior Year' review: Rebel Wilson high school comedy flunks out
Netflix comedy has nothing to say about 2002 or now, other than that both exist.
Talk about senioritis.
"Senior Year" is an insipid high school comedy about a varsity cheerleader who falls into a coma and awakens 20 years later and plots to claim the prom queen crown she missed out on. Do you find references to 2002 hilarious? Then this movie is your jam. Otherwise this dreadful fish out of water story is about as fresh as an episode of "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment," one of the few 2002 properties the movie doesn't mention by name.
Angourie Rice ("Mare of Easttown") plays Stephanie Conway, an Aussie transplant who ditches her boring friends and diets her way to popularity in high school in the early '00s. During a pep rally near the end of her senior year, she's dropped to the floor while performing a cheerleading routine and goes into a coma for 20 years.
When she awakens — the coma and its aftereffects are taken about as seriously as they would be in an "SNL" sketch — she's played by Rebel Wilson, and she's keen to pick up right where she left off. But first she has to learn about this new crazy world we're living in: smart phones? Virality? People being more sensitive toward marginalized groups? What is going on here?
Steph quickly learns the ways of Instagram and re-enrolls in school to finish out her senior year, and to say that "Billy Madison" handled an adult's return to the classroom with more practicality is an understatement.
Her nemesis is the most popular girl in school, Brie (Jade Bender), daughter of her old rival Tiffany (Zoë Chao), who weaponizes her wokeness in a way that almost becomes a statement on the modern tendency of turning advocacy into a hashtag, but stops short of taking an actual stand or saying anything meaningful on the topic.
"Senior Year" instead becomes a tired parade of namedrops to popular things around the turn of the millennium — "TRL," Tamagotchi, "Darrin's Dance Grooves," Von Dutch — mentioned and then moved on from like citations on a Wikipedia page. Generic lessons about individualism and the emptiness of social media come way late, after the movie spends most of its time bowing at the alter of Likes and social engagement.
A lot of "Senior Year" might go down easier if Stephanie, both in past and present form, wasn't such a noxious person. But she's an unrepentant social climber with a bad attitude to match; she's the side character you dislike while rooting for a main character who isn't present here. (The stand-ins for audience sympathy are her old pals Martha, played as an adult by Mary Holland, and Seth, played by Sam Richardson, who are too thinly sketched to merit any real investment.)
The movie's R-rated edge — Steph's most frequent reaction is "what the slut?" and "sucks weins" is a favorite descriptor of things subpar — never quite finds the right groove and feels overly needy, especially when set against such a conventional teenage storyline. (Picture "Never Been Kissed" with raunch, and you see why that's not such a good idea.)
Television veteran Alex Hardcastle, making his feature film debut, stages several effective dance sequences, including one rather spot-on recreation of Britney Spears' "Crazy" music video. Otherwise "Senior Year" is as vapid as its lead character. Leave it in the past.
Rated R: for sexual material, language and brief teen drinking/drug use
Running time: 113 minutes