By Sarah Osman
Like the films of the 2000s, Senior Year is filled with chuckles but eschews substance.
Senior Year, Netflix
It’s difficult to face, but at some point in our lives each of us will have to accept the fact that, regardless of what we think, others consider us old. For millennials (like myself) who were teenagers in the early to mid 2000s, we are now seen as aged. Besides the shock of recognition, one of the fun parts about getting old is looking back at the strange fads, fashions, and culture of yore. You can’t help but shake your head and wonder — what the hell were we thinking?
Senior Year, the latest comedy made for Netflix, capitalizes on early 2000s nostalgia. Filled with references to Avril Lavigne, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the early catalog of Britney Spears, the film is an amusing look back for millennials as well as a lesson in pop culture for Gen Z. (And a warning as well — what is cool today will be bizarre tomorrow.) The premise itself could have been pulled from a 2000s flick (or a story by Washington Irving): Stephanie (Angourie Rice) is cheer captain, girlfriend to the quarterback, and obsessed with being popular. Her crowning achievement is to be crowned prom queen. Unfortunately, she’s dropped during a cheer stunt (an event that, strangely, is never brought up again) and lapses into a coma for 20 years. When adult Stephanie (Rebel Wilson) wakes up in 2022, the world is a very different place: Instagram “likes” are how you become popular, everyone is a cheer captain, and prom queens and kings ended when burnt CDs did. She decides to do what any 37-year-old waking up from a coma would do: go back to high school and win the title of prom queen.
Wilson is very much the heart and soul of the film. She manages to make Stephanie’s more annoying traits, such as whining when her phone gets taken away, charming. Also, there is excellent chemistry between her and the supporting cast. She shares playful moments with her high-school-chum-now-turned-principal Martha (Mary Holland), as well as her friend (who was in love with her in high school) Seth, played by Sam Richardson, who desperately needs to be cast in more films. There are also some endearing moments with her father, Jim (Chris Parnell), who never changed a thing in her room, which is filled with teen magazines (do those exist anymore?). Her two teenage friends, played by Avantika and Joshua Colley, also match Wilson’s infectious energy, especially when they explain how the new high school hierarchy works.
While Wilson and much of the supporting cast are a treat, Stephanie’s foes are disappointingly one-dimensional. Her former frenemy, Tiffany (Zoe Chao, who does the best with what she’s given), is now married to Stephanie’s former high school beau, Blaine (Justin Hartley). They have a daughter, Brie (Jade Bender), who is a senior in high school and is a prominent influencer. Their family dynamics are vague at best. It’s unclear why Tiffany and Blaine have stayed together, except for the sake of appearances. Tiffany is clearly trying to relive her high school glory through her daughter. Brie’s attempts to rebel against her mom by being hyper sensitive is undeveloped. And why isn’t there any attempt to explore how Tiffany feels about Stephanie’s reappearance? Tiffany was responsible for her coma in the first place. The phenomenon of people who peak in high school could have been probed as well but, aside from a humorous cameo by Alicia Silverstone, that issue is not touched on. Plenty of other promising opportunities are ignored, such as the predicament of someone who was frozen (via a coma) between 17 to 37. But Senior Year isn’t interested in delving into survivor trauma.
Like the films of the 2000s, Senior Year is filled with chuckles but eschews substance. Politically, the movie tries to have it both ways: it critiques the “woke” culture of Gen Z but embraces it. The central generational culture clash is worth examining; one hopes more serious and accomplish films will dissect it. So enjoy Senior Year for what it is — a mindless comedy that takes a campy trip down memory lane. Here is the chance to introduce your kids to what Von Dutch was.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman