Senior Year is a mishmash of movies that came before it. We have the returning to high school as an older adult idea from Never Been Kissed, the desire for popularity and becoming part of the in-crowd à la 13 Going on 30, and an attempt to offer a more contemporary perspective on high school cliques and social dynamics, kind of like Mean Girls. The way it starts even mimics Easy A, where the protagonist makes an apology over a social media platform, and we go through the story beats as to why she needs to make the apology in the first place.
So Senior Year isn’t the most original movie to ever walk the earth, but it’s surprisingly fun and is an earnest exploration of what it means to be a young person in an image-obsessed world.
When young Stephanie (Angourie Rice) first moved to America from Australia, she didn’t exactly fit in. She found the transition difficult, and things exacerbated when her mom got sick. Even though she had friends like Martha and Seth, Stephanie always found herself looking over at the popular crowd, envying their shiny, perfect lives. She wanted to be cool and popular, and after a pep talk with her mom about visualising what you desire and working towards it, she decided she was going to make herself popular. And she does. In her senior year, Stephanie is Cheer Captain, has a hot boyfriend, and is well on her way to being crowned prom queen.
The slight damper on her parade is Tiffany, who was the queen bee before she wrestled the crown away from her. Tiffany’s plan to embarrass Stephanie goes horribly wrong, and she ends up in a coma for 20 years. The audience is required to suspend disbelief for this plot point, since keeping someone on life support for that long is pretty incredulous. A case could be made about her father being unable to let go as he had already lost his wife, since Stephanie’s (Rebel Wilson) the only family he has left, though I think the nature of the movie means we don’t have to ruminate too hard on certain things.
From this transition from past to present day, what I noticed immediately is how spot on Rice is in her mimicry of Rebel Wilson’s mannerisms and speech patterns. I can completely buy that she’s the younger version of Stephanie. All these young actors actually do a decent job of behaving like their older counterparts, so it allows us to feel like we’re watching the same people over time.
Now that Stephanie’s awake and out from her coma, she becomes jarringly aware of how much has changed over 20 years, and also how she lost her opportunity of becoming prom queen. But then, she’s reminded of her mom’s pep talk, and decides to make her goals into reality, by re-enrolling herself in high school, with Martha’s (Mary Holland) help, since her friend’s now the Principal of the high school.
The strongest parts of the film are really the juxtaposition between the past and present day high school social dynamics. While there’s an increasing level of acceptance, and a greater sense of diversity in the various cliques, there’s still a hierarchy, only now, it’s driven by one’s social media game instead of social group markers like being a cheerleader or on the football team. The movie also explores the disjunct that can exist with regard to social media and real life, with posted images reflecting a kind of idyllic perfection that isn’t actually present in real life.
As Stephanie tries to figure out how to get more followers on Instagram, she’s horrified at how woke the cheer squad has become and attempts to shake things up, much to Martha’s horror.
There’s quite a few dance sequences in the movie – reminiscent of that Push It performance from Glee, as well as that interpretive dance scene from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion – which seems to be very much a Rebel Wilson thing. If you’ve watched Isn’t it Romantic, it’s very much the same spiel here, except that Senior Year is driven more as a coming of age film, while Isn’t it Romantic explores fantasies and realities in the world of dating.
There’s a chemistry problem in both these movies, because these characters that Wilson plays seem to hit it off more with the men she doesn’t end up with. Wilson and Liam Hemsworth are hilarious together and also have romantic chemistry in Isn’t it Romantic, and it’s the same for Wilson and Justin Hartley in Senior Year. The interactions between Stephanie and Blaine (Hartley) are so campy and ridiculous that we laugh, yet we can’t deny the obvious spark there. So even though things are very lovely with Sam Richardson’s Seth, I wish there was more romantic energy than best friend energy between the two.
Senior Year also introduces a bunch of really personable characters, like Janet (Avantika) and Yaz (Joshua Colley), who are unapologetically authentic and very easy to root for. Even Lance, played by Love, Victor‘s Michael Cimino, who doesn’t even have many lines of dialogue in the film, is just so effusively likeable.
While there’s still a long road ahead to perfection, the movie is a reminder of how the changes we’ve seen ripple through society have contributed to making schools a safer place for young people. Even though Bri (Jade Bender) and Lance are popular, they aren’t bullies and don’t feel the need to make someone else feel small to amplify their status in the school. Bri’s choice to break away from the toxic patterns of her mother Tiffany (Zoë Chao) is such a great narrative choice as well – we can be better than those who came before us, and just as successful without stooping to petty games and tactics.
If you enjoyed the bunch of movies I referenced earlier, you’ll most probably enjoy Senior Year.
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Senior Year is an amalgamation of a bunch of coming of age movies that came before. It's still an enjoyable time, due to the efforts of the cast and the comedic talents of Rebel Wilson.
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