Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Channeling 80s John Hughes and fun party movies like 90s classic Can’t Hardly Wait, David Henrie’s This is the Year is the best teen comedy of 2021! As the feature film directorial debut for the Wizards of Waverly Place star, I was surprised how much passion and nuance is lovingly baked into the script. I saw a lot of myself in appropriately-named nerdy lead Josh (Fear the Walking Dead’s Lorenzo James Henrie). Pressured to write a final essay on his high school experience, Josh realizes that he has not yet fulfilled that movie version of his own life. The film chronicles his years-long journey to scoop up Zoey (Alyssa Jirrels), the girl of his dreams, while navigating the pressures of senior year and contemplating his future. Charming, hilarious, and heartfelt, come board the Milleni-yum Falcon and dive into This is the Year!

For years now, Josh has been obsessed with Zoey, gushing to his eclectic next door neighbor and movie theater coworker (whose window is directly adjacent to his own), Molly (Vanessa Marano, Gilmore Girls, Switched at Birth). So far, the most contact Josh has had with Zoey involves asking to borrow her chapstick. Meanwhile behind the scenes, he is hard at work making her special music mixes. With mere weeks left of his senior year, Josh realizes the clock is ticking as his teacher, Mr. Elmer (Jeff Garlin), keeps drilling him about his late final essay. How can he be expected deliver one about his high school experiences when he has has no exciting experiences to speak of? To make matters worse, Zoey breaks the news to Josh that she is graduating early and moving to LA with her cocky artist boyfriend, Kale (ultra-cute Faking It and Runaways star Gregg Sulkin).

The answer to Josh’s problems lies in the imminent performance of his favorite band, live in concert—Lovely the Band is “the soundtrack to our generation.” After their tickets sell out in minutes, Josh concocts a plan with the help of Molly to obtain wristbands to the concert, or at least to tell everyone else as much. With no physical way to see Lovely the Band, they prepare a lie that twists in different directions the more people get roped into their scheme. Zoey takes the offer hook, line, and sinker, barely questioning how they were able to snag the tickets. Josh’s bestie, Mikey (Supercool’s Jake Short), has access to a beaten-down old food truck dubbed the Milleni-yum Falcon via his potential venture with his brother Donnie (Bug Hall), which just so happens to be the perfect set of wheels to transport the group to the concert. Armed with three friends and zero tickets, Josh sets out to Lovely the Band, in the hopes that he can stop Zoey from moving off to LA and ruining her life entirely.

Whoever assembled this ensemble cast deserves a serious raise. From top to bottom, the stacked roster of familiar faces bring their charm and charisma in full-force. I never expected to get emotional from the subplot with Josh’s teacher, nor to become so invested in the lives of nearly every character. Director David Henrie’s tongue-in-cheek, musically-charged cameo as a celebrity look-alike with eyes for Molly is a definite scene-stealer. A very Bruce Springsteen moment of triumph, dart-tossing, a rousing DJ session at the Motel Mermaid, and a wonderful full-circle ending are just a few further highlights. This is the Year is the epitome of feel-good entertainment. It remains virtually impossible not to at least crack a smile for this outrageously entertaining road trip romp.

This is the Year requests your final essay, in theaters and on demand on September 24th.

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