'Senior Year' Review: Netflix's Best Bad Movie

Rebel Wilson stars in a Clueless-inspired high school comedy. It's half-baked and unoriginal, yet somehow a total blast.

Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
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  • Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Jennifer Bisset
2 min read
Rebel Wilson in a red open-top car.

Rebel Wilson stars in Senior Year.

Photo Credit: Boris Martin

Netflix rightly cops a lot of flak for producing low-quality movies , so we probably shouldn't encourage more like Senior Year. And yet, the Clueless-inspired high school comedy starring Rebel Wilson somehow wins you over with its combination of familiar teen movie material and Wilson's improvisational schtick, mainly involving semi-rude takedowns of the American high school elite.

The premise: Stephanie Conway is a high school cheerleader who wants the perfect life. Her main goal: become prom queen, marry the hottest guy in school and live in a mansion. Yet when a rival sabotages a cheer routine, she ends up in a coma for 20 years. When she wakes up, aged 37 but with the mind of a high schooler, she does the only thing that makes sense: reenrols in school and campaigns to fulfil her dream of becoming prom queen.

Basically no one reacts with any concern to someone awakening from a head trauma and returning to high school with teens half their age. There's a clear sense Senior Year banks on our knowledge of Mean Girls and Never Been Kissed to make its giddy fantasy world recognizable.


Stephanie and her new friends.

Boris Martin/Netflix

The familiar material goes to slightly more unique places when Stephanie and her '90s values mix with today's more progressive teens. She discovers influencer culture and the currency of Followers, attempting to make her livestreams become a "virus."

There isn't anything incisive to be learned from this and no, the jokes aren't clever, but the general positive sentiment of Senior Year -- its final message is to be yourself -- gives it a weirdly wonderful purity. For all its faults, Senior Year is naive, harmless escapism. That tends to hit the spot nowadays.

Other cast members of note are Mary Holland as the inclusive school principal, Angourie Rice (of Spider-Man and Mare of Easttown fame) as the young Stephanie and Zoë Chao as Tiffany, Stephanie's old high school rival and now mom of the coolest influencer in school.

Zoe Chao and Justin Hartley sitting among the crowd in a movie theater.

Zoe Chao as Tiffany and Justin Hartley as Blaine.

Boris Martin/Netflix

Wilson, who gets to play Stephanie as an Australian, does her thing from the Pitch Perfect movies, seemingly improvising insults to take down the crazy characters around her. There's even a Pitch Perfect-like pep talk before a loud cheer routine, led with zero trepidation post-coma. Maybe against the odds, Wilson's schtick just doesn't get old -- the one Australian terrorizing American high schoolers is a satisfying clash.

Is it wholly unoriginal? Yes. Does it wear you down with its attempt at reproducing the innocent, cheery world of Clueless until you're OK with how shallow it is? Also, yes.

It won't score high as a Proper Film, but Senior Year is an above average Netflix movie that achieves exactly what it promises. It's silly, cheerful, features bangers from the '90s and delivers a predictably happy ending.

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