‘Senior Year’ Review: Oops! She’s Prom Queen Again.
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Rebel Wilson stars in a back-to-school comedy that gets its laughs and drama — strained as they sometimes are — from the ways high school experiences have changed for Gen Z teens.
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At last, a comedy with Rebel Wilson in which the chuckles don’t hinge on punishing pratfalls.
“Senior Year,” a nostalgic sugar rush directed by Alex Hardcastle, casts Wilson as Stephanie, a coma patient who wakes up two decades after a cheerleading stunt gone awry. Stephanie’s final pre-coma memory is of a basket toss that carried her 10 feet into the air, a height from which she could see her whole future: She would be prom queen, marry a hunky jock and spend the rest of her life in suburban bliss. Then her head smacked the gym floor. (In flashbacks, a teenage Stephanie is played by Angourie Rice.) She awakens as a 37-year-old (Wilson) with the brazen immaturity to enroll at her old high school and reassert her reign as a popular beauty.
The big joke is the radical vibe shift in youth culture from hierarchy to equality. Stephanie, a millennial, is aghast to discover that her new, Gen Z classmates reject the entire concept of a pecking order. The screenplay (by Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli and Brandon Scott Jones) doesn’t quite believe them; it seems to suggest that bullying has mutated into self-serving, weaponized empathy.
The film’s early snark turns as cloying and insincere as the cultural doublespeak that it parodies. By the final act, its dialogue is so burdened by inspirational maxims about personal authenticity that it feels as though the script has been hijacked by yearbook quotes. The director, Hardcastle, doesn’t appear to have his heart in these scenes. Instead, he concentrates his energy on a re-enactment of Britney Spears’s 1999 music video for “(You Drive Me) Crazy,” which hits the screen with such pizazz that one suspects it was the motivation to make the film — and will likely be the audience’s reason for watching it.
Senior YearRated R for sex, swearing and substance abuse. Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes. Watch on Netflix.