Movie fans haven’t seen Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson on the big screen for a couple years now after her last comedy The Hustle, a subpar remake of the 1980’s classic Dirty Rotten Scoundrels opposite Anne Hathaway, bombed at the box office just prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
With Wilson, originality is key as parts where she’s inventing something new allow her humor to pop a bit more on screen. Though there is some very basic tropes to her new comedy that make director Alex Hardcastle’s feature film debut a bit formulaic, Senior Year is a fun throwback to late 90s-early 2000s mid-budget comedies that movie studios just aren’t making that much anymore.
At its core, Senior Year is a slightly more risqué version of the 1999 rom com Never Been Kissed with a twist.
Wilson plays Steph, a 37-year-old woman who awakes from a 20-year coma after a cheerleading accident a month before graduation. Determined to finally get the prom queen crown she felt she deserved back in 1999, Steph reenrolls at her old high school to become popular in an era of social media and community activism she’s completely unprepared for.
The key to this film working on any level is Wilson, who elevates a very middling script with her brash, yet bubbly personality that endears viewers to Steph from the outset and allows audiences to roll with the punches as Senior Year does a roller-coaster ride between genuinely funny and cringe funny moments.
As solid as Wilson is at carrying the film, Angourie Rice steals every scene she’s in as the 1999 version of Steph with a confidence and charm that plays a fun twist on the Lindsey Lohan character from Mean Girls.
Mary Holland teeters on the edge of being too grating while complicating Steph’s life as her former best friend turned high school principal Martha. It’s a performance that makes viewers want to grab Martha and shake some common sense into her, but Holland is able to keep from going completely overboard with Martha’s rigid adherence to not offending anyone at any cost. Martha almost completely sucks the fun out of Senior Year at times, but Holland helps Wilson to make a bigger impact as a result.
Clueless star Alicia Silverstone is a welcome sight in what amounts to an extended, yet pivotal cameo as one of Steph’s idols while Saturday Night Live alum Chris Parnell brings a sweet affable charm to Steph’s dad in both timelines that helps hold the film together.
The film’s screenplay penned by Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli and co-star Brandon Scott Jones is probably the weakest element as its best jokes are more visual than written and the majority of the plot points are telegraphed so obviously that audiences will know exactly where things are headed by the 15-minute mark.
Light nostalgia for the “Total Request Live”-era of the late 1990s is the most fun part of “Senior Year” both from the countless references in dialogue as well as a hysterical shot-for-shot reenactment of the classic Britney Spears music video for “You Drive Me Crazy” that allows Wilson to put her physical comedy chops to the best use since the Pitch Perfect trilogy.
It’s strange that Paramount would essentially sell off this movie to Netflix instead of premiering it in theaters or on their own streaming service, Paramount+. Senior Year is equally as charming and entertaining as 2019’s Isn’t It Romantic, another Wilson-led rom-com that made $48 million on a $31 million budget.
Perhaps streaming services will be the new forever home for mid-budget romantic comedies in a post-COVID landscape, but this lighthearted fare also seems to be the perfect Friday date night movie for younger couples to enjoy in a cinema landscape increasingly devoid of alternatives.
While not a laugh out loud riot for two hours, Senior Year certainly is a comedy with enough humor to keep casual audiences interested with its ease of access on Netflix.