Senior Year

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Senior Year movie

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Emily Clark

Movie Review

When Stephanie Conway first moved to the United States from Australia, she knew the transition wouldn’t be easy.

She didn’t have “cool hair” or “hot clothes,” and she couldn’t even pronounce her Rs. Sure, her mom reassured her that she was beautiful, smart and funny. And that her accent made her unique.

But according to Steph, her mom’s opinion doesn’t count.

Steph doesn’t want the approval of her parents or friends; she wants the approval of “the populars”—the few people fortunate enough to somehow skip their awkward tween phase. Because “if their lives are this amazing in high school, imagine how perfect the rest of their lives are going to be.”

And Steph knows exactly how to become one of them. All she has to do is change everything about herself, become captain of the cheerleading squad, acquire dozens of new friends, get a “hot” boyfriend and be crowned prom queen.

Unfortunately, Steph’s plan for the perfect life doesn’t go quite as planned. After a cheer stunt gone horribly wrong, Steph falls into a coma for 20 years.

She wakes to find everything has changed. Cheerleaders aren’t cool anymore. Real life friends have been replaced by online followers. And her high school boyfriend, Blaine? Well, he married her rival, Tiffany, after they won prom king and queen before moving into Steph’s dream house.

But Steph, stuck in her 17-year-old self, still believes she can have the perfect life. All she has to do is adjust to the modern world, become captain of the cheer squad once again, acquire millions of followers on social media, somehow convince Blaine to leave his wife and win prom queen.

I guess some people really don’t ever grow up.

Positive Elements

When Steph was a teenager trying to fit in, she told her mom (who was dying from cancer) that her opinion about beautiful and smart Steph didn’t count because she was Steph’s mom. Years later, Steph’s dad tells her that the one thing her mom made him promise before she died was that he would teach Steph how to receive love. He tells her that his opinion does count because he counts. And while it might not be “cool” to listen to your parents, they love you the most, and therefore their opinions matter the most.

Steph admits that winning prom queen wasn’t so much about being popular as it was about doing it for her mom. After moving from Australia, Steph was miserable because people made fun of her. And to help her get through it, Steph’s mom told her to imagine her perfect life—because if you can imagine it, then you can have it, she said. So after her mom died (which made Steph even more miserable), Steph decided to prove her right by achieving that perfect life, which meant becoming popular and winning prom queen.

Of course, those goals weren’t the be-all, end-all for Steph. As a teenager, she abandoned her two closest friends, Martha and Seth, on her royal quest. As an adult, she repeats this mistake, taking their feelings for granted and acting selfishly. When she realizes how much they truly care for her (and how much she values their opinions, thanks to her dad), she apologizes, and they forgive her.

And although Steph acts selfishly at first, we also see moments that prove she loves her friends and family. She encourages her dad to attend a group for widows and widowers. She defends Martha against a bully who calls her “Barfa.” And after she decides to focus on her friends and schoolwork instead of being popular. She makes amends with Tiffany, encouraging Tiff to focus on her relationship with her daughter instead of her rivalry with Steph.

A former prom queen says she wishes she had been more focused on school than popularity while growing up. She explains that her mixed-up priorities left her with no credit or job prospects after her divorce. However, she also explains that she isn’t holding onto the past. She went back to school at the local community college and works two jobs to pay rent. It’s hard, but because her priorities are now on track, she feels excited about the future.

As principal, Martha aims to create a kinder, less fiercely cliquey high school than the one she attended. She cancels most forms of competition (particularly the prom king and queen one) because if there are no winners then there are no losers either. And she goes on to become coach of the cheer squad, creating chants about saving the environment and the importance of consent. (Not to mention that she gives them much more modest uniforms.) We also learn that she was able to provide Seth with a stable job as the school librarian after a messy breakup.

Spiritual Elements

When Steph wakes from her coma, she wonders if she’s been “Freaky Friday-ed” into an older woman’s body. There are references to Harry Potter and a convent.

Sexual Content

You know, this is one of those films where there’s just so much sexual content, it’s hard to know where to begin.

First off, the people portrayed in this film, particularly Steph (both before and after her accident) are obsessed with sex. They talk about it constantly and graphically. We see hetero- and homosexual pairings. A teen girl’s open relationship with her boyfriend (who wears women’s clothes on occasion) is called the “gold standard of the future.” Magazines aimed at teens feature articles about sex and being “sexy.” And while there’s no nudity, a teen boy’s genitals are blurred out on screen when his kilt fails to cover him properly.

Another teen boy gropes his girlfriend’s chest in public (and when the girl’s friend says he shouldn’t behave that way, the girl says it’s how he expresses love). An adult Steph slaps a man’s rear end. When a couple imitates sex in a theater, someone calls it pornographic. Steph imitates many sexual acts and teaches teenagers to do the same. Several couples make out. Pictures in magazines show celebrities wearing next to nothing. We hear a lot of crass talk about body types and parts that leaves little to the imagination.

Teens dance inappropriately in formfitting, revealing outfits. A school principal calls cheerleaders “not school appropriate” just before they perform a risqué dance routine to Nelly’s song “Hot in Herre,” which talks about removing clothes. Another dance routine mocks sexual consent with its suggestive choreography. (And a father is criticized by his wife for cheering the students on.)

To Steph’s outrage, Martha attempts to de-sexualize the cheer squad by changing the uniform to loose-fitting, gender neutral pants and shirts. Steph responds by creating several racy costumes to wear at their next performance.

Blaine attempts to have an affair with Steph. We learn he also cheated on his wife back in high school when they were still dating. When he says he has a thing for prom queens, Steph is disgusted since Blaine’s daughter is in the running. We hear about another man who left his wife for a younger, more fit woman.

Martha confesses that high school was miserable for her because she was gay. She feared that her friends, namely Steph, wouldn’t accept her and would join bullies in verbally abusing her. Seth is repeatedly called “Sethany” by Tiff.

A girl gives her friend a sock covered in dried semen to stem the blood from a cut on his forehead.

Violent Content

Under orders from Tiff, two girls push the cheer squad members meant to catch Steph after tossing her high into the air. As a result, Steph falls to the ground hard, resulting in her 20-year coma.

Steph jumps out of a moving vehicle when the driver refuses to stop. Later, it’s revealed she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt either. When a girl slams on her car brakes, her passenger hits and cuts his head on the dashboard.

Steph falls when she tries to stand up unaided right after waking from her coma. Later, she faints and falls to the floor again. A man falls off the edge of a stage.

Steph sometimes throws temper tantrums, screaming and throwing objects around.

Crude or Profane Language

There are 15 uses of the f-word and 12 of the s-word. We also hear uses of “a–,” “a–hole,” “b–ch” (and variants of that term), the Australian expletive “bloody,” “d–n,” “d–k,” “h—” and “p—y.” A play on words also references the c-word.

There are a plethora of crude terms from Steph’s childhood, most of which insult women, including “skank,” “slut” and “ho.” A few refer to male reproductive organs, as well. But the most popular profane phrase here is easily “oh my god,” which we hear about 85 times (most uttered by Steph) throughout the film.

People make crude hand gestures. A teacher tries to cover his accidental use of the s-word by saying “shoot” and “dang.”

Steph uses the terms “retarded” and “gay” derogatorily until someone informs her that it’s no longer socially acceptable.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Hundreds of teenagers drink at a party hosted by Steph (who is technically an adult at the time), and the party gets reported to the cops. One girl becomes inebriated, screaming profanities on video about how the media will someday use said video to discredit her. We hear that parents paid for an open bar at their daughter’s post-prom party.

A woman drinks directly from a wine bottle when stressed. A man is warned against getting drunk as well as drinking and driving. Someone references “aphrodisiac wine.”

People smoke marijuana. Steph is given free marijuana (which she then hands out to classmates) after becoming a social media influencer. A man asks his daughter if she using cocaine.

Other Negative Elements

The rivalry between Stephanie and Tiffany is petty and obnoxious. Even though we know Tiff arranged for Steph’s accident (although it seems she didn’t expect it to end quite so badly), she acts like it was somehow Steph’s fault it happened. Steph insults Tiff’s marriage. Tiff brags about living Steph’s dream life. Steph mocks Tiff for living vicariously through her daughter, Bri. And Tiff ultimately pits Bri against Steph by reinstating the prom queen competition and rigging the votes in Bri’s favor.

Bri, who is a social media influencer, starts off oblivious to her mom’s manipulations because she doesn’t care about popularity. Bri says she’s just trying “to build my most authentic, socially conscious, body-positive, environmentally aware and economically compassionate brand that’s a home for inclusion, focused fashion, food and fun-filled lifestyle.” Or to put it in Tiff’s own terms, Bri is “woke.”

Now Bri isn’t completely innocent. She insults Steph with a post about ageism and hurts another girl with a comment about body positivity. But Bri soon starts to realize that her mom is a hypocrite who cares more about showing up Steph than caring for her daughter.

Tiff tells Bri that prom king and queen “rewarded archaic gender roles” but then forces Bri into the competition. Tiff tapes up hundreds of posters around the school for Bri’s campaign, despite Bri having made a no-paper pledge. Tiff is more worried about the money that Bri lost out on from sponsors by withdrawing from the prom queen competition than whether Bri would get arrested for attending the party that Tiff called the cops on. And when Bri realizes that limiting the number of people she follows on social media isn’t about preserving the mental health of others but rather just a way of controlling who is considering “cool” or not, she blocks her own mom to teach her a lesson.

Of course, as bad as Tiffany is, Steph can be just as bad. She manipulates her friends to get what she wants. She uses teenagers to make herself popular online, encouraging them to make bad decisions and act lewdly. And whenever things don’t go her way, she throws immature temper tantrums.

A teenaged Martha steals the keys to her parents’ lake house for Steph’s post-prom party. Steph then only invites her and Seth to said party as an afterthought. And even though Steph has been planning the shindig for months, her boyfriend tries to get her to cancel it so he can go to a different party at his ex-girlfriend’s house.

Bullies mock Steph for being poor. Tiff insults Seth, saying it took 20 years and a bit of brain damage to convince Steph to go out with him. A woman doubles the price of prom tickets so it will have the aesthetic she desires. People bribe teenagers.

A woman vomits. A teen girl pretends to defecate a bowling ball. Steph prepares for prom by going on a dangerous diet of only bananas and ice cubes. Several unused tampons are used in an art display.

Conclusion

“Who you are in high school doesn’t define you,” Stephanie finally realizes.

It takes an annoyingly long time for her to understand this, but that’s Senior Year’s main point. Being popular in high school doesn’t mean you’ll have friends later in life. Being in love in high school doesn’t guarantee you a happy marriage. Being prom queen doesn’t mean you’re going to have a perfect life.

And while this is a good message, it’s aimed at the wrong audience.

Senior Year isn’t appropriate for teenagers who might benefit from its good messages. It’s not appropriate for adults either, for that matter, but that’s a moot point since the messages are coming a little too late in life anyways.

But let’s dive into the content issues.

To get admitted back into high school (as opposed to taking GED courses), Steph uses the excuse that she is still mentally 17 years old. However, if that’s actually true, then we have a big situation on our hands where a 17-year-old girl stuck in a 37-year-old woman’s body is dating and presumably doing adult things with a man who is actually 37-years-old. And honestly, that’s creepy, no matter how much Steph insists it isn’t.

Next—say it with me now—just because you use adults to portray teenagers doesn’t mean you aren’t sexualizing underage boys and girls. Seriously, teenage Stephanie and company are crass and cringingly vulgar. But then Steph’s body ages 20 years, and she starts to teach other teenagers to talk and act the same way! (Not that they weren’t already randy teenagers, but having an “adult” encourage it was disgusting.)

Language is another major issue. It’s a rare movie when the number of times God’s name is abused outnumbers the f-bombs nearly six to one. But then you throw in nearly every other profanity and it becomes downright unwatchable.

The film briefly touches on the very real difficulties that homosexual people often face—namely the fear, anger and isolation that comes from bullying. But then it turns around and celebrates open relationships with multiple partners of both genders.

Netflix’s Senior Year certainly threw me back to my own senior year of high school. But while that time in my life was difficult, at least it didn’t compare to Steph’s monstrosity.

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Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her fiancé indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.