Jhe spirit of bubbly high school comedies, from Never Been Kissed to Mean Girls to Easy A, haunts Netflix’s “if you like…” junky offering Senior Year, with a progressively deafening reminder of what came before. For where those movies had charm, wit and vibrancy, it instead has a mind-numbing absence, a disappointing, derivative two-hour memory.
It at least looks like the movies it desperately wants to be lumped in with, a little peek at its origins, made by Paramount before being unloaded on Netflix. British director Alex Hardcastle, best known for his sitcom work, does an impressive job of making us believe we’re in good hands with a slick, pop aesthetic ahead of the script, from Andrew Knauer, Arthur Pielli and actor Brandon Scott Jones, reminds us that we’re really not, the vaguely familiar frame of a rugged studio comedy crumbling with every misguided decision made. Worst of all is the choice to give the lead role to Rebel Wilson, an often adept comic book performer who works best as a humorous prop (funny in Bridesmaids and 2015’s underrated How to Be Single) but who often struggles in the more substantial spotlight (uneven in the 2019 rom-com parody Isn’t It Romantic).
She’s taken on a very specific acting challenge here that demands more than she can really give, playing a woman waking up from a 20-year-old coma after a cheerleading accident at school. She may look 37, but she has the mind of a 17-year-old (there’s a gnarly psychodrama that could have arisen from that premise) and so her every move must reflect this puzzling discrepancy.
Ahead of her are great examples of actors who have effortlessly pulled off something similar, from Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30 or Tom Hanks in Big or more recently a surprisingly textured Vince Vaughn in Freaky, but a Wilson casting mistake never convinces as someone who understands the intricacies of a new body and a new life, a simple and superficial performance not aided by a script that also doesn’t fully tackle the real day-to-day details or the real comedy of such a surreal experience. Instead, it’s just a simple montage – mistaking Lady Gaga for Madonna, learning to use Instagram, insisting on a Real World: New Orleans prom theme – and such a sickening feeling at a stadium. advanced, of which there are a lotis clearly ineffective.
There’s proven comic mileage comparing the nature of high school life then and now, something 21 Jump Street handled well, with prospects forced to reconfigure their ideas of popularity and how to wear a backpack. But here, it’s all far too broad with the film’s exaggerated view of kombucha-drinking mini-activists embracing their gender fluidity while trying to fight climate change feeling lazy and a little too mean-spirited, as if they were all written with an exhausted eye roll. The adult characters don’t fare too well either, although there are enthusiastic turns of Sam Richardson as an old friend with a crush, Mary Holland as a BFF turned main, Justin Hartley as an old jock boyfriend and Zoe Chao trying to squeeze laughs out of frustrating, lackluster dialogue as the bitter ex-Queen Bee. But despite the bloated runtime, the script still can’t find enough time to flesh out any of these dynamics, each missing a handful of vital beats.
Tonally, it’s all over the place, that aforementioned sap curdled with Wilson’s signature grossness, an R-rated comedy that aims to be both sweet and salty, a balance it never manages to perfect. So dick-sized jokes and weary-ass-slut bashings collide with Live Laugh Love’s silly life lessons like “why fit in when you can stand out?” and “the perfect online life means nothing when you’re miserable in real life,” the movie sounding like a two-shoe good kid who just learned a dirty word.
The film’s aggressive overload of nostalgia, aimed squarely at a 30-something audience, is best summed up by a sequence where Wilson’s character lovingly re-enacts the video for Britney’s 1999 hit (You Drive Me) Crazy. There’s no attempt to add any real humor or any sort of inventive twist to the performance, it’s just…. This scene, and the film’s use of pop culture in general, is reminiscent of Charles Bramesco’s incisive critique of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, where he noted “a particular breed of fans more interested in identifying objects than what what we do”. For those who delight in the performative act of pointing and nodding to show they know what that song or TV show is then, there’s plenty here to annoy those you try. to impress, others who ask for a little more might feel short-changed. It’s also indicative of a certain brand of boring comedies where you’re expected to have fun just because the ones on screen seem to be but that’s just not enough and the end, with of them frantic musical dance numbers, also don’t have the contagious effect that the creators seem to think.
The high school year might get a passing grade for its sheer energy, but for everything else it’s a fail.