‘Senior Year’: Rebel Wilson Goes Back to High School in Nostalgic Netflix Comedy

While few adults would ever want to return to high school, Rebel Wilson is desperate for a second chance in the Netflix comedy “Senior Year.” Wilson stars as Stephanie Conway, a 37-year-old woman who wakes up in a hospital and discovers that she has been in a coma for 20 years following an unfortunate cheerleading accident. Still mentally a teen, Stephanie returns to high school and resumes her mission to become prom queen, only to discover that the playbook on how to be popular has changed a bit in the past two decades. Gone are the days when being a cheerleader, working at Abercrombie & Fitch, and/or being a “butt slut” is enough to get you to the top of the social hierarchy, as iPhones, social media and performative wokeness have changed the game.

“Senior Year” begins in 1999 when Stephanie (played by Angourie Rice as a teen), a high school freshman and recent immigrant from Australia, becomes determined to be popular after falling for class hunk Blaine (Tyler Barnhrdt). Fast forward to 2002, and Stephanie, a month away from graduating, is now captain of the cheer team and Blaine’s girlfriend. She has also kept her old nerd friends, Seth (Zaire Adams), who’s obviously in love with her, and tomboyish Martha (Molly Brown). Winning prom queen would be the perfect cap to her high school career, but a rival queen bee, Tiffany (Ana Yi Puig), threatens her plans. It is Tiffany who sabotages her during a pep rally, causing her to fall on her head in front of the whole school and go into a coma.

In 2022, Stephanie wakes, and after the initial shock and discovering that Tiffany (a wickedly funny Zoë Chao) is now married to Blaine (Justin Hartley) and living in her dream house, she becomes determined to finish what she started her senior year. While 37-year-old women usually aren’t let into high school, fortunately for her, Martha (Mary Holland, perfectly cast as the voice of reason) is now the principal. The coincidences just keep coming, because Seth (a charming Sam Richardson) is the current school librarian, and Tiffany and Blaine’s daughter, Brie (Jade Bender), is now the most popular girl in school and the one to beat for prom queen.

The laughs really start when elder millennial Stephanie returns to school and starts interacting with her new classmates, zoomers who are glued to their phones and no longer use words like “retard” in causual conversation or call things that they find lame “gay.” She quickly befriends the cheerleaders –– brainy Janet (Avantika Vandanapu), fashion-lover Yaz (Joshua Colley) and awkward Neil (Jeremy Ray Taylor), but is bummed to discover that they now wear frumpy uniforms and have replaced upbeat dance routines to catchy pop tunes with sexless and stunt-free cheers with social justice messages. Another hilarious touch that shows how much times has changed is that Brie’s boyfriend, Lance (Michael Cimino), the presumptive prom king, is a gender non-conforming hottie who wears a kilt to school.

Wilson’s energetic performance drives the film as Stephanie wins her friends old and new over to her side, starting with getting them onboard her campaign to reinstate the prom queen and king competition. In turn, they help her evolve as a person. “Senior Year” makes the case that although the younger generation is more inclusive and tapped into what is going on in the world, the toxic part of being in high school remains. We see this when Brie passively aggressively disses Stephanie in an Instagram post about ageism, or when it was revealed she called out the cheerleaders for allegedly being anti-feminist in order to steal their spotlight. But the biggest bully remains Tiffany, who turns out to be one of those self-absorbed mothers who lives through her daughter, and even goes as far as to attempt to rig the prom queen election in order to stick it to her old rival.

Overall, “Senior Year” is full of fun moments, although with a runtime just under two hours, it is overstuffed. It takes too long to get Stephanie back to high school, and a subplot involving her grief for her late mother feels forced. Chris Parnell, who plays Stephanie’s dad, finds himself at the center of some of the more unnecessarily sappy scenes, but he still gets some laughs in, such as when he’s lecturing Seth about safe sex before prom.

While Wilson is at her most entertaining when Stephanie is delivering quippy dialogue and/or being unintentionally crude, the dance sequences are actually a highlight of the film. Stephanie proves she still has it after all these years, even showing the young ones a thing or two in a scene that recreates Britney Spears’ “Crazy” music video. Finally, Wilson and her co-stars bring down the house in a final graduation scene that features a nostalgia-fueled dance number.

Senior Year” begins streaming May 13 on Netflix.