Rebel Wilson is a funny person but, the Pitch Perfect series aside, movies have never known what to do with her. Isn't It Romantic, The Hustle, Cats – none of them made particularly good use of her talents. Now comes Senior Year, a comedy that puts the actress back in high school. A million humorous possibilities exist in the premise, but the film finds none of them. It's almost astonishing how badly it screws up what should have been a sure-fire success.
Wilson is Stephanie Conway, a woman who has just awakened from a 20-year coma brought on by a cheerleading accident back in high school. She's horrified by how much time she missed, and even more so by the fact that her rival, Tiffany (Zoe Chao), is now married to her ex-boyfriend Blaine (Justin Hartley). Physically in her thirties but mentally still seventeen, Steph feels that the only way to move on from the accident is to finish the senior year she was deprived of. Best friend Martha (Mary Holland), who is ever-so-coincidentally now the principal, makes it happen. Sam Richardson (Werewolves Within) co-stars as Seth, the male pal who always had an unspoken crush on Steph. He is ever-so-coincidentally the school librarian, and that gives you an idea of how contrived the plot is.
You could do a lot of things with the concept of an adult trying to finish high school after two decades. You could satirize changes in the educational system. You could show how issues facing teenagers are the same, even though styles and sensibilities are different. You could also simply play up the generation gap, finding humor in an adult who tries to ingratiate herself with teens who view her as old and uncool. Senior Year goes for none of these ideas. Instead, it hauls out obvious, lazy jokes about kids today being too politically correct and obsessed with social media. A comedy like this only works if it respects the teenagers. By making fun of them, the tone feels too mean-spirited to earn laughs.
Wilson is certainly game to play a character who's too old to be preoccupied with becoming prom queen and gaining popularity. She works overtime to suggest the ways Steph is still living in the past. (It's weird, though, how the character awakens from a 20-year coma and, a few minutes later, makes a joke about OnlyFans.) Unfortunately, the actress is surrounded by dumb stereotypes. Tiffany and her daughter, who becomes Steph's new school rival, are one-note mean girls, played in the exact same unrealistically snooty manner that mean girls are always portrayed onscreen. Heaven forbid an actress try to make one of them seem like a real person, as opposed to a relentlessly stuck-up bitch. The requisite gay friend is here too, arriving periodically to make crude sexual jokes, because that's the only thing gay friends are allowed to do in bad comedies.
Senior Year often mistakes vulgarity for humor, going crude at every opportunity. A few intermittent attempts to squeeze in more serious, heartfelt ideas – like the prior death of Steph's mother – fail, as they are completely at odds with the broad tone of everything else. Then there are at least half a dozen pointless musical numbers, ranging from cheer routines Steph choreographs, to a fantasy sequence in which she replicates a Britney Spears video, to a group dance-off over the end credits. These bits serve merely to pad the running time to nearly two hours.
The biggest problem, however, is that the movie doesn't use its premise to say anything. I was reminded of the 1999 comedy Never Been Kissed. In it, Drew Barrymore plays a reporter who goes undercover in a high school and has to re-confront the bullying that caused her to become an insecure adult. That film was funny because it had a core of truth. Senior Year has no truth, and therefore almost no laughs.
out of four
Senior Year is rated R for sexual material, language, and brief teen drinking/drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.