It does not take long senior year to set out its offbeat premise, which focuses on a popular high school student who awakens from a two-decade-long coma and aspires to her senior year at age 37, hoping to pick up exactly where she left off to end. Within minutes we are transported into this woman’s chaotic developmental state. And although director Alex Hardcastle and screenwriters Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli and Brandon Scott Jones heed the wise concept of a person out of time in high school, similar to the genius 21 Jump Street and Unkissed did, this Netflix original lacks the power of those cinematic predecessors to survive the landing.
After moving to the United States from Australia, stunning teenage girl Stephanie (Angourie Rice) was keen to fit in with the popular crowd. Pondering trendy magazines and MTV, wearing the right wardrobe, and following accepted social norms helped our young heroine become the most popular girl in her high school by her senior year. Now she’s on her way to her so-called perfect life – driving a red convertible, dating the hottest guy in class, Blaine (Tyler Barnhardt), and being made captain of the cheer squad – or so she thinks. Tragedy strikes when jealous class bully Tiffany (Ana Yi Puig) sabotages her performance. Bring it on-style cheering routine that ends up ending up with the 17-year-old in a coma in a hospital bed.
On her 37th birthday, Stephanie awakens to find that not only has her body changed, but so has the world around her. There are all sorts of new popular things to learn about, from cell phones to superstars, and not all of it comes as a welcome surprise. Her teenage dream of one day owning the most picturesque house in town is quickly dashed when she discovers that grown-ups Tiffany (Zoe Chao) and Blaine (Justin Hartley) are married and living there. But instead of going into shock, she decides to get her life back on track, go back to school, and achieve the one goal she couldn’t: become prom queen. However, this proves difficult as the school has long since banned the competition and it must contend with contemporary social mores to reinstate it.
The film is painfully simplistic in execution, often underestimating its clever set-up, and with unlikable, poorly drawn characters, the film works overtime to actively dislike audiences. Stephanie’s two closest friends – insecure, puppy-eyed Seth (Sam Richardson) and hooded, kindhearted Martha (Mary Holland) – act like her conscience, but forgive her far too easily when inevitably asked. Others, like Tiffany and her socially conscious daughter Bri (Jade Bender), Stephanie’s contemporary rival, experience an undeserved change, though the latter gets the most compelling arc in the story. Also, satisfying resolutions are noticeably muted and muted by frustrating creative choices.
Since the protagonist is a transplant from 2002, and her way of speaking (aggressively overusing the term “slut”) dance, and dress are straight out of this year, this film’s vibes are on par with popular teen ranch coms of the era. This level of insight seems random, as none of these filmmakers are innovative with their own ideas. It’s not all bad, however, as they speak up admirably about stereotypes and gender politics, while cracking some funny jokes at Stephanie’s expense.
Wilson, who previously played a woman with a head injury on the far funnier and sharper romcom show-up Isn’t it romantic?, perfectly sums up the physicality of a spoiled, selfish teenager – feigning embarrassment, touching her face with her hands, slouching her shoulders and putting on a cute whine. Her nuance also makes the material stand out, particularly in the third act when the script asks her to sell her character’s inevitable shift from selfish to selfless. Her scenes with the writer and actor Jones, who also co-starred with her in the aforementioned film, show their pleasant relationship, but unfortunately cannot save the picture.
There aren’t many modern films that focus on the female midlife crisis and it’s doubtful that this will inspire more – a shame considering that with more craft and care, senior year could have been much more meaningful, even genuinely outrageous. While the zany shenanigans and hijinks don’t reveal much in the way of heart or humor, its fast pace and the lead lady’s comedic skills make it just enough worthy of your Netflix queue. Just don’t expect to throw your hat in the air when it’s over.