The fantasy of wanting to relive your secondary school years is one of the most enduring premises in all of cinema, from the likes of ‘Back To The Future’ or ‘21 Jump Street’, but ‘Senior Year’ does not belong in the category.
The film has a decent premise – how does the prom queen culture of the early 2000’s transfer to the modern day? - but fails to make the most of the potential.
Rebel Wilson stars as Stepanie, a high school senior who slips into a coma for 20 years and finds that the high school life she knew before is gone.
If you expected a Rebel Wilson comedy to have any insight into changing cultural norms outside of hackneyed pop culture references, you are sorely mistaken.
There is a dramatic premise to be mined here, and the film occasionally touches on what it would be like to lose the best years of your life through no fault of your own.
Some scenes explore how people hang onto the person that they were in school, and how it ended up following them into adulthood, and in those small moments, there is almost a Kenneth Lonergan sense of pathos within the script.
In flashback scenes, we get glimpses of a more dramatically rewarding film which a better script would have run with and serve as a commentary on the warnings of nostalgia.
Then, Rebel Wilson’s character makes a reference to a song from 2002 and any dramatic weight the script goes out the window.
Between this and ‘The Adam Project’, Netflix’s films have an almost prodigious skill of stumbling upon better, more dramatically rich films within their own generic ones without realising it.
The Rebel Wilson brand of comedy is a decent fit here, with the fish-out-of-water act working up until a point.
A good comedic performance can help paper over the cracks in a bad script, and Rebel Wilson certainly tries her best here.
By the end of the improbable 100-minute run time (FAO editors, 85 minutes, tops!) Wilson runs the gauntlet from ‘TVs are different now’ to finding out about influencer culture.
10 years after breaking out in 'Pitch Perfect' and 'Bridesmaids', Wilson's brand of comedy has barely evolved from simply being the irreverent Aussie, and fans of the actress will find a lot to like here.
The film is almost a companion piece with 'Peggy Sue Got Married', with the core idea of going back to school with an older head on younger shoulders an appealing premise for any viewer.
As established, Alex Hardcastle is no Francis Ford Coppolla and Rebel Wilson is no Kathleen Turner.
Hardcastle makes his directorial debut with this film, with the likes of ‘The Office US’, ‘New Girl’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’ under his belt, and the film feels like a 2-hour long sitcom episode.
Other directors have made the leap from sitcom directing to blockbusters - just ask the Russo brothers - but Hardcastle lacks the visual imagination to make something interesting,
When your comedy film has the same cinematography and lighting as a yogurt or health insurance advertisement, something has gone wrong somewhere.
'Clueless' and 'Bring It On' look like a Wong Kar-Wai film compared to 'Senior Year'.
Watching a feature-length episode of a sitcom sounds like fun, but your brain feels like it is on fire after watching a film like this for 100 minutes.
A decent roster of TV supporting actors make up the roster, with Chris Parnell, Sam Richardson, and Zoë Chao helping put meat on the bare-bones script they have to work with.
Netflix’s penchant for licensing out big pop hits to use for 10 seconds at a time also does the film a disservice, and helps make the film feel like a glorified television episode than a film.
Granted, expecting a film like this to punch above a 3-star rating is asking a lot of it, and for what it is, ‘Senior Year’ fulfills the role of a perfectly disposable film you’ll watch once and never think about again.
For fans of Rebel Wilson or people who want to relive the heady days of the early 2000s, the film offers one, even as much as two chuckles.
For the rest of us, you can replicate the experience of watching ‘Senior Year’ for free by putting on a Spotify playlist of 2002 pop hits and stopping every 30 seconds to make an observation about how stupid fashion looked back then.
Between this and ‘The Pentaverate', Netflix are not exactly making a spirited attempt to keep subscribers on their service.
The mid-budget comedy is something that a good studio should be able to put out in their sleep, and Netflix can't even get that right.
When Ken Burns makes the inevitable 10-part documentary about the collapse of Netflix, 'Senior Year' will be the subject of its own episode.