OTT Review: Senior Year

Senior Year transposes pre-millennial sensibilities into a Gen Z setting. You’d be forgiven if you believe — at least a little bit — you are watching snatches of Grease all over again

By Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 19 May 2022, 10:35 PM

Last updated: Thu 19 May 2022, 10:37 PM

For many of us who went to high school in the 1980s and 1990s (note for Gen Z: don’t judge, it’s called ageism), Grease remained a benchmark. The frisson of shock-and-awe — especially for folks like me who attended staid south Asian all-girls schools where decorum ruled the roost — constituted one of the high points of coming of age as we watched Grease over and over again on VHS. The political incorrectness, the sense of rebellion, the free-for-all manifestations of hormonal imbalances… and yes, the unsanitised cheerleading that wasn’t considered a sign of female objectification. It was the Great American High School Dream. There can never be another Grease in the 21st century, unless the Coen brothers put together a noir retread to make a point.

Which is why I loved Senior Year, that released last week on Netflix — even though critics have been critical about the implausibility of the plot. For me, it was like revisiting a high-school campus that brought back Danny and Sandy to life (er, okay Gen Z, those are the characters played by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Grease), complete with student politics, complicated love lives, quirky teachers and lovable parents who didn’t believe in new-fangled notions like “quality time”.

It’s the late 1990s, and Stephanie Conway (Angourie Rice) has moved to the US — a fictional town called Harding — from Australia with her family. She’s desperate to fit in with her Aussie accent and fit in she does, emerging as the coolest girl in class, a hot boyfriend in tow, as she works zealously to be crowned prom queen in her final year. During a practice session of cheerleading, Steph has an accident and goes into a coma. She wakes up more than two decades later, in 2022. She’s now (mentally) a 17-year-old in the body of an “old person”, a 37-year-old woman (Rebel Wilson), who her dad calls “menopausal”, and who has piled up some pounds while being comatose (it’s interesting that Rebel Wilson, in real life, has been a plus-size advocate).

Steph wants to go back to high school, and “grow up”. More importantly, she wants to pursue her dream to be crowned prom queen. Her best friend Martha (Mary Holland) from two decades ago is now the principal of Harding High, so she — after trying to talk Steph out of it — gets her admission for her final year.

But things have changed. Almost every word she has grown up using is a pejorative. Every act — including cheerleading — is scrutinised by social media. Her “enemy” Tiffany’s Instagram star daughter is her new classmate; and Tiffany has also married her boyfriend who, in his grown-up avatar, wants to have a fling with his ex. All in all, it’s a right mess. And yet, Steph has to get her mojo back.

Great acting, super-smart screenplay, cool music, and a zany interplay between two generations make this a breezy watch over the weekend — even though you may raise an eyebrow or do an eye roll once in a while.

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