‘Senior Year’ Review: Crowded but lovable comedy trip back to high school

Spare parts from high school comedies from Peggy Sue Got Married to Mean Girls and beyond were ripped apart and then sewn back together to create Senior Year. In other words, this vehicle for producer star Rebel Wilson isn’t organic even as a genre homage; his Frankensteinian assemblage always feels more imitative than inspired. Still, if Alex Hardcastle’s painstakingly over-the-top Netflix feature isn’t exactly good, it’s still good enough to offer reasonable throwaway fun, thanks much less to the material than a cast that ups it when they can.

Introduced in 1999 as “just your average, boring, invisible girl who had no friends”, Australian emigrant Stephanie Conway (Angourie Rice) decides on her 14th birthday to do better. Three years later, a methodical push toward popularity has paid off: she’s captain of the cheerleading squad, possessed by deadly rival Tiffany’s (Ana Yi Puig) boyfriend Blaine (Tyler Barnhardt), and appears to have sewn up the prom queen’s crown and can afford not to even notice that her two best friends (Molly Brown’s Martha, Zaire Adams’ Seth) have crushes on her. Unfortunately, an acrobatic not-quite-accident staged by the aforementioned rival at a pep rally ends all this social perfection with a splat.

Twenty years later, our heroine (now played by Wilson) wakes up in a US hospital bed where she has been in a coma the whole time. After dealing with the shock of being a mental teenager in a 37-year-old body, Steph decides to finish everything—including 12th grade—that she started in another era, on exactly the same terms . Of course, the external circumstances have changed significantly: Martha (Mary Holland) has become the principal of Harding High, Seth (Sam Richardson) its librarian, and the reigning common student is Brie (Jade Bender), daughter of the miserably married yuppie “it.” “. Married couple Tiffany (Zoe Chao) and Blaine (Justin Hartley).

Even more jarring are the cultural shifts that have taken place, upending all of Stephanie’s notions of what’s hot and what’s not. Diversity is embraced, competition frowned upon to the extent that there is no longer a prom king or prom queen. The Cheer Squad still exists, but under Martha’s coaching, it’s a whole different entity, doing little routines about global warming and inclusivity. Nonetheless, life is beginning to reshape into something very similar to where it had gone two decades earlier, proving that some behavioral currents (catty, sneaky) run deeper than wakefulness. However, this is the year 2022, but rest assured that it will all end with everyone imbued with a fountain of empathy and self-acceptance.

Written by Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli, and Brandon Scott Jones (the latter also has a supporting role), the screenplay scatters a few good lines amidst an equally large amount of flimsy ones, without ever finding a unified tone. Even veteran TV director Hardcastle doesn’t infuse the process with the kind of high style that could accentuate the script’s more absurd notes, despite subtly colorful design contributions. That fuzz gets pretty muted after nearly two hours, bolstered by cute onscreen graphics along with ideas drawn entirely from Bring It On, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, and more. Neither the retro fag that comes out of Stephanie’s mouth nor the satire on contemporary political correctness is funnier than she tries by a wide margin.

But “Senior Year” is kind enough, even if it often tries too hard. The real laughs are almost all trivia with touches of improvisation, with Holland, Richardson, Hartley and Chris Parnell (as the heroine’s widowed father) being particularly adept at such matters. Then there’s Wilson, who hasn’t made a film in a very busy 2019, which has seen her four releases range from the bliss of “Jojo Rabbit” to the tragedy of “Cats.” Even she can’t save some of the worst stings in substitute teenspeak here (e.g. “What the hell?!”). But she remains a naturally gifted comedienne, bringing together that derivative conceit (perhaps most directly inherited from “Strangers With Candy” and Jamie Kennedy’s vehicle “Kickin’ It Old Skool”) through sheer personality power and riffy performance chops.

While it ends up getting too smug at the end – throwing some kind of post-credits dance party that starts 10 minutes early – “Year” already earned favors with a sequence a little earlier. Then the chastised Stephanie ends up in a cab driven by Alicia Silverstone, the one-time “Clueless” star who is tasked with showing an immature protagonist the sober satisfactions of hard-earned adulthood. It’s a brief, unobtrusively dramatic embellishment that makes this lengthy, cluttered comedy seem better than before, like a lone touch of decoration that “holds the room together.”

https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/senior-year-review-rebel-wilson-1235265981/ ‘Senior Year’ Review: Crowded but lovable comedy trip back to high school

Charles Jones

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