As an adult freshly in my 30s, I cannot say that where I am now is how I envisioned my future forming after high school. How can one even fathom waking up from a coma at age 37—having skipped the maturing and personal growth of two decades—still in a 17-year-old state of mind? This is exactly the clever concept behind Netflix’s shockingly great rom-com, Senior Year. The film is a decidedly modern take on a familiar formula, and one that completely wraps the viewer in its blanket of comforting nostalgia. A killer soundtrack overflows with 90s and early 2000s gems like “C’est La Vie” and an iconic mashup of “Hot in Here” and “A Moment Like This.” Best of all, this flick has massive heart, and a sharply-scripted bitchy/comedic tone resembling Never Been Kissed and Mean Girls. Get ready for your first day of Senior Year!
It is 2002, and young Stephanie (Angourie Rice, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Nice Guys) is on the cusp of realizing her dream life! It all starts with becoming prom queen. Initially a quiet outsider who hung out with the not-so-popular kids when she moved to the U.S., Stephanie has clawed her way up to becoming the captain of the cheer squad with a hunky boyfriend named Blaine (Tyler Barnhardt, 13 Reasons Why) on her arm. Besties Seth (Zaire Adams) and Martha (Molly Brown) have fallen to the wayside a bit in favor of Stephanie’s popular new friend group. Gifted a gorgeous prom-dress present from her mom who passed away from cancer, Stephanie is ready to carry out her life’s plan: put on a VMA-level performance with the Bulldogettes at the school pep rally, become prom queen, and lose her virginity to Blaine at a prom afterparty! Unfortunately, Stephanie’s rival, Tiffany (Ana Yi Puig), has other plans in store; a prank gone wrong during a cheer routine results in Stephanie being plunged into a 20-year-long coma!
When Stephanie awakens, she is now played by Rebel Wilson in an excellent bit of casting. She is at first convinced that she was “Freaky Friday’d” into an old person’s body, but Stephanie quickly realizes that this is not the case. Back at home, Stephanie’s father (Chris Parnell) has kept her room perfectly preserved, including Britney Spears and *NSYNC posters, as well as Stephanie’s endless magazine subscriptions. Martha (now Mary Holland fills in the role) has become the Harding High principal, making some surprising changes to the school’s hierarchy. There can be no losers if there are no winners! To Stephanie’s dismay, her rival, Tiffany (Zoe Chao, The Afterparty, Long Weekend), has grown up to live in her dream house with high school sweetheart Blaine (now This is Us actor Justin Hartley), who himself is a self-proclaimed “DILF.” Convinced her only options are starting an OnlyFans to “queef for money,” or go back to high school, Stephanie convinces Martha to let her back in to complete her senior year.
This is not the same Harding High that Stephanie left behind years back. The kids are all more “woke” and socially conscious, the school’s display of all the previous prom king and queen winners has been replaced by tampon art, and the concept of king and queen winners for the prom has been quietly removed. Run by a queen bee named Bri (Jade Bender) that just so happens to be Tiffany’s daughter, Harding High will only reinstate prom queen if they can amass enough signatures to overthrow Martha’s changes. Stephanie attempts to lead the charge, but Bri treats her coldly while packing on the PDA with her polyamorous, kinky boyfriend, Lance (Michael Cimino, Love, Victor, Annabelle Comes Home). Stephanie quickly befriends the new crop of cheerleaders, including queer and fabulous Yaz (Joshua Colley) and nerdy feminist Janet (Avantika). Understanding the modern high school hierarchy may prove to be extraordinarily challenging—Stephanie concocts another plan to get her life back together and win prom queen once and for all!
Rebel Wilson has previously led a meta rom-com that celebrated the genre at large (Isn’t It Romantic?), and now she’s back in a big way with her first film since 2019’s disastrous Cats. Director Alex Hardcastle (who also directed episodes of Grace and Frankie, Love, Victor, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) channels Wilson’s quirky energy into a stellar, fantastic romantic comedy that checks every box of the best in the genre. The central conflict here is pretty much exactly what one would expect, tackling the value of popularity versus real-life friendships. However, it is done with a beautiful artistry and whip-smart musicality lacking in many films of the genre. A pep rally that evokes Glee’s big season one number “Push It” is a highlight, as is a hilariously perfect recreation of Britney Spears’ “Crazy” music video. The dance numbers and commentary on our technology-obsessed digital age further add to the charms.
In this writer’s opinion, Senior Year has all the makings of a modern teen classic, and the Netflix platform should provide a fitting wide audience to spread its cheery gospel far and wide. It even manages to sneak in a healthy portion of heart to make those emotional character beats feel that much sweeter. Senior Year is the complete package of feel-good entertainment. Don’t forget to stick around during the credits, lest one will miss Michael Cimino proclaiming, “I really wanna get spit roasted by two leather daddies,” and another amazing 90s needle-drop set to a montage of fun. Seeming to tease the possibility of a sequel I would love to see materialize, Senior Year is no doubt one of the best original films that Netflix has on offer.
Senior Year brings a 90s coma girl to the modern world when it debuts exclusively to Netflix on Friday, May 13th.