A high school, coma comedy with a fish-out-of-water twist, “Senior Year,” a new Netflix movie starring Rebel Wilson, plays like a mix between “While You Were Sleeping” and “Billy Madison.”
Stephanie Conway (Angourie Rice as teenager, Wilson as an adult) was on track to have a perfect life. A high school star, she was a cheerleader, president of the fashion club and prom queen candidate until a head injury, caused by a tumble off the top of a cheerleading pyramid, put her into coma for twenty years.
Waking up at age 37, it is like no time has passed. As far as she knows, it’s 2002, words like “shiznit” and “bomb diggity” are still hip and she still wants to be prom queen, the pinnacle of high school success. “It’s more than just a crown to me,” she says.
But she is a relic. Social media is a new-fangled thing, political correctness is like science fiction, cheerleaders now do routines about the climate crisis and gun control, and her former classmates are now the parents of high schoolers.
To get on with her new life, its’s time for some adult education… in high school. “I can’t move on to the next chapter in my life,” she says, “if I am still stuck in the old one for twenty years.”
With just a month before graduation, she enrolls, trying to pick up where she left off. But she finds times gave changed. “I had more fun in the coma,” she sighs.
“Senior Year” is a comedy with a scattergun approach.
The coming-of-age story is meant to be a poignant look at Stephanie as she matures and comes to understand that there is more to life than cheerleading and being prom queen. The power of friendships and loyalty are examined—”It doesn’t matter who has the most friends, or likes, or followers,” says Stephanie. “If you just have one or two great friends, they will support you. Then you have got it all. That is worth fighting for.”—butted up against the notion of being true to yourself and the idea that who you are in high school doesn’t define you.
Doesn’t sound that funny, does it?
That’s because it isn’t. At least, not all the way through. “Senior Year” takes a one joke premise and milks it for humor in the first couple of acts. Funny, situational lines are sprinkled throughout the first hour or so. “You survived twenty years without solid food,” says Stephanie’s dad (Chris Parnell), “you can make it through a weekend without your phone,” but they dry up as the movies goes on.
It also goes for laughs from the culture clash between 2002 and 2022. Stephanie has much to learn about political correctness and world events, but to its credit, the film doesn’t treat the teens as woke zombies, spouting catchphrases, but as decent kids who care about their friends and the future.
It sounds like a lot, because it is a lot. Wilson does what she can to keep things moving along, but when the feel-good messaging begins, she is saddled with prosaic, by-the-book truisms that suck away the whatever fun had been established in the film’s first part.
Talented comic actors like Mary Holland and Zoë Chao bring both humor and heart to their roles, but “Senior Year” still feels messy. Too long, it toggles back-and-forth between the sincere and the silly like it is changing gears in a high-speed Formula One race, but, unfortunately, never finds its pace.