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Is "Senior Year" Netflix’s death knell?
Film review

Is "Senior Year" Netflix’s death knell?

by Tómas Atli Einarsson 3 min. 19.05.2022
Misanthropic film will do little to pull in young viewers, showing the streaming service's poor business decisions
Nowadays, fewer people are interested in "seeing what's next"
Nowadays, fewer people are interested in "seeing what's next"
Photo credit: Shutterstock

With more news emerging of Netflix’s increase in subscription fees and declining quality of original content, I thought I’d look at what it had to offer this week. I really only use it to watch Seinfeld (much to the detriment of my sense of humour), and wasn’t really aware of the issues the world’s biggest streaming service is facing. But Senior Year quickly brought me up to speed.

A combination of coma-induced time travel story and adult-going-to-high-school flick, it follows teenage Australian immigrant Stephanie Conway (Angourie Rice) on a quest to have the “perfect life”. At the height of her high school popularity in 2002, a rival sabotages her during a cheerleading performance so that she sustains a brain injury which puts her into a coma. Twenty years later, the adult Stephanie (Rebel Wilson) wakes up in the body of a thirty-seven year-old with the mental capacity of an adolescent.

The obvious jokes get stale fairly quickly. Why is my TV flat? Why are all the kids on their smartphones? What do you mean I can’t say the ‘r-word’ anymore? But the shock persists. It’s a huge surprise to Stephanie to see how obsessed kids these days are with the environment and inclusivity. She rejoins Harding High and finds that all the students are ultra-woke internet addicts; guys wear nail polish and girls are all obsessed with their Instagram account. To her horror, cheerleading in the dystopian future is now all about equality! There’s no cheer captain because everyone’s a cheer captain!

Worse, the daughter of Stephanie’s former rival is now the most popular girl. But instead of being the most catty cheerleader, Bri is the wokest of them all, with the largest social media following. She’s just as awful as her mother, of course, but cloaks it with an intense social consciousness. 

Stephanie decides she needs to become popular again and reinstates the prom king and queen competition. Her new objective? Become an influencer. With social media and politics reframed from the perspective of someone who has been comatose for 20 years, they inevitably become all the more absurd.

But the world, populated by a new generation of woke and humour-less smartphone enthusiasts, has not changed much at all. Senior Year’s setting is still the same arch-conservative suburban bubble, which the film refuses to really investigate. Much of the plot swivels back and forth between thinly-veiled cynicism and off-putting misanthropy.

The world in which Stephanie wakes up in, is no better than the one she once knew, though technological development and changes in attitude have made it markedly more confusing. This reinforces the notion that people have always been awful, regardless of whether smartphones are a thing or not. 

The closest thing to a happy resolution to Senior Year is the ideal of the ‘perfect life’, which Stephanie imagined as living as a stay-at-home wife in a suburban mansion with her quarterback boyfriend. This is supposed to seem vain and immature – but it never ceases to be the goal everyone in the film is striving for. The film doesn’t really believe in its own criticism.

What all this half-formed critique of our contemporary consumerist culture really achieves is expressing a lingering dislike for people, and particularly young people. The future, as seen from the early 2000s, is depicted as wracked with culture wars fought by people too engrossed in their smartphones to do anything about it. And while the film does point out that while high school can be rough, you can still make good friends there, nothing really changes.

Stephanie still becomes prom queen – although a woke one – and her suburban fantasy of an ideal life is never challenged. The future is shown as becoming progressively worse and worse. What could’ve been a fun time-twisting romp becomes distressingly pessimistic when interrogated.

This Netflix original is a B-movie that’s only interesting when you read it subtextually. The streaming service, whose whole model is shifting into something resembling cable television, can only blame itself for the recent drop in subscriber counts. The pandemic really must have put pressure to produce whatever was pitched to them. More films like Senior Year hardly justify me paying of a higher monthly fee, just to watch Seinfeld.


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