In the new Netflix teen-ish comedy “Senior Year”, a cheerleading accident leaves a high school senior in a coma. After she wakes up 20 years later, she sets out to finish her high school dream of being named prom queen. Sounds utterly ridiculous, right? Well, it pretty much is. And while first-time feature film director Alex Hardcastle deserves points for trying to make something out of this nutty premise, the utterly predictable movie can only manage a few mild laughs and even fewer interesting characters.
The movie begins by introducing us to Samantha Conway (played in the early scenes by a really good Angourie Rice). Since moving to the United States from Australia with her parents, Samantha has struggled to fit in with the popular crowd. She has her loyal yet eccentric friends Seth (Zaire Adams) and Martha (Molly Brown), but she really want to be in with the in-crowd. So Samantha begins her freshman year with a pledge to become the most popular girl in school.
After reading a lot of magazines and fixing her hair a certain way (because apparently that’s all it takes to be most popular), Samantha becomes the toast of Harding High School. By her senior year she has the hunkiest boyfriend, Blaine (Tyler Barnhardt) and even wins cheerleader captain from her snooty rival, Tiffany (Ana Yi Puig). All she needs to cap off her self-centered popularity run is winning Senior Prom Queen.
But then an cheering ‘accident’ during a pep assembly puts Samantha in a coma. Now played by Rebel Wilson, she wakes up 20 years later to an entirely new world. Older Blaine (Justin Hartley) has married older Tiffany (Zoe Chao), older Martha (Mary Holland) is Harding High’s principal, and older Seth (Sam Richardson) is the school librarian. You would think it would all be a shock for Samantha who’s physically 37-years-old but mentally still 17. Instead, she just picks up where her younger self left off, determined to finish her senior year, regain her popularity, and be voted prom queen.
But these days things are much different at Harding under the more buttoned-up Martha. The school has moved from the privileged, egocentric clique culture of Samantha’s youth to a more self-important, ultra-progressive, and hyper sensitive environment. So of course we get the inevitable bits where Samantha’s ways are constantly clashing with the new. Some are mildly amusing while others see the trio of screenwriters (Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli, and Brandon Scott Jones) working way too hard.
Yet despite it’s more enlightened exterior, Samantha learns Harding still has the same nonsense but in a different form. It’s embodied in the new most popular girl, Brie (Jade Bender), a social media maven who (of course) happens to be Tiffany’s daughter. She touts her social consciousness with the same smugness as Stephanie once brandished. But in today’s Harding, the popularity contest is determined by the number of online followers you have. So it’ll take an adjustment if Samantha wants to reach her dream of prom queen.
The movie milks it central conceit dry and touches on several pretty obvious themes in the process – true friendship, reevaluating your dreams, learning what really matters in life, etc. Meanwhile the characters are more or less caricatures who click a wide assortment of genre boxes. Some still manage to be entertaining. Rice is quite good as a young Samantha, impervious to how her lust for popularity impacts those who love her. Wilson’s version of older Samantha has its moments, but it often feels like a performance rather than something genuine. I did like Chris Parnell as Samantha’s single dad. It’s a very by-the-book character but Parnell pulls some feeling from it. There’s also a great cameo later on that I’ll let you discover for yourself.
As the movie plays out it gets more and more predictable. Eventually everything falls right into place, exactly as expected. A few dance numbers are thrown in, but they aren’t particularly fun or well done. The worst one comes at the end – a corny cringe-soaked musical finish that turned this shallow yet watchable mess into something I was anxious to get away from. “Senior Year” is now streaming on Netflix.