Age may not have withered Steph, but after 20 comatose years with a high calorie feeding tube it has given her massive boobs. Luckily the cheerleading outfit still fits. Very spoilery, obviously. Check out my thoughts on that Dream Theme, or scroll down for a plot re-cap including the ending (If you’re after my review, it’s here.)
Can come true…. But a dream life can also be faked, either on social media or in someone else’s eyes (Steph’s adoration from afar of Deanna Russo, who turns out to have had a much harder life than Steph realised). The story of Senior Year is one of finding out what dreams are worth following, and how it’s never too late to change course to something more meaningful.
Steph’s big dream has remained the same over 20 years asleep: to be crowned Prom Queen. It’s from that title that all good things in life will flow. And I have no idea if this is deliberate, but the name Stephanie means… garland or crown.
I said in my review there’s a fairytale quality to Senior Year, with its sleeping princess roused from her slumber by a hot prince (okay, ex-quarterback Blaine and his Hummer TV ad). Like most movie versions of fairytales she’s blonde and it all ends happily, though her happy ending is to a story she wasn’t expecting: falling in love with Seth rather than getting Blaine back, and learning to look forward rather than to the past.
Tiffany is held up as an example of what happens if you follow the Steph Plan. During those 20 years Steph spent in a coma, her rival has been living her own dream, very similar to the teenage Steph’s, and the cracks are starting to show.
Older Tiff believes her life to be perfect, living in that same house, in the same small town, though her husband and daughter know it’s an illusion. Deep down, surely Tiff knows that too, which is why she now wants Bri to reach for the same dream, to justify her mother’s choices and to reach greater heights. She, like Older Steph (and to an extent Bri) are also caught up in the illusions of social media, where a dream existence can easily be faked, or can hide the pain beneath.
Martha’s dream may have come from sadness (spending her schooldays terrified and angry that the popular kids might find out she’s gay) but she uses her experiences to create at Harding High the kind of environment where Young Martha could have thrived. She may take it a bit far (no winners because winners creates losers, popularity contests just moving from the cafeteria table to online) but her dream will improve the lives of countless nameless kids.
Seth’s dream in 2002 was to get Steph to come to the prom with him. Eventually he gets his wish. He’d been working at the National Archives in Washington DC until a broken love affair sent him him to the school library, and while we don’t hear the details of his DC work, to any book lover that actually sounds like a (sorry) dream job. He obviously enjoys being Harding High’s librarian, but it does look like his big dreams is to find true love with Steph.
Towards the end of the film Steph gets a Lyft ride with Deanna Russo, the ex-Prom Queen whom Steph used to idolise from afar. She now has two jobs to make ends meet but is happy and fulfilled studying at the local community college for her degree. Her future career is exciting for her in a way that her illusory, so-called perfect life never was.
Stephanie, newly arrived with her parents from Australia, is gauche and definitely not one of the popular kids.
It’s 1999 and her 14th birthday party at the local bowling alley ends with the reiteration of her loser status, as queen bee Tiffany mocks her and her friends. She does get an approving glance from school quarterback Blaine Blanco, which only makes Stephaine more determined to make herself popular — the perfect life, she thinks, is within her grasp.
She eventually achieves both coolness and popularity through the school cheerleading team, becoming captain in her senior year, and battling Tiffany for the Prom Queen vote. She also nabs Blaine, agreeing to go to the Prom with him despite best friend Seth having the hots for her. Life is not all plain sailing though, as her mother dies from cancer.
Steph remains obsessed with popularity, seeing Deanna Russo — an ex Harding High Prom Queen who now lives in Steph’s dream house with her gorgeous husband — as the woman to emulate if she wants a perfect life.
Before she dies, Steph’s mum picks out a pink prom dress for Steph to wear. Her dad gives it to Steph before the big day and Steph adores it.
Steph’s best friend Martha gives her the key to her family’s beach house at a nearby lake, which she’s lending Steph for an after prom party. It all looks good until arch rival Tiffany, whom Steph beat to become cheerleading captain, announces her own post-prom do. They have an altercation in the school toilets, with neither agreeing to cancel their party.
Steph is so proud of the new routine she has choreographed that she has it made it into a video, and asks Martha to place it in the school archive for posterity. Just before performing the routine in public, Steph and Tiff have another bust-up. Tiff takes aside the twin girls in the squad for a chat.
The performance is going brilliantly until Steph is thrown into the air for a tumble. The twins push back the teenage boy meant to catch her, and she falls to the ground. Steph is left in a coma for 20 years.
Waking up in hospital as a 37 year old, she finds a room full of birthdays cards covering two decades. it’s not a moment too soon, as her dad confesses he’d been thinking of freezing her.
Martha and her dad take her home — he has kept her bedroom exactly the same.
Steph visits her old dream house, where Blaine and Tiff — now married — live. Tiff gives her a loaf of homemade sourdough. Seth leaves the 2002 school Yearbook on her doorstep but doesn’t come in. It contains a spread dedicated to Steph, titled Halfway To Heaven.
The next day she asks Martha, now Principal of Harding High, if she can complete her senior year. As there are only a few weeks of term left, Martha agrees — with misgivings. Steph bumbles on, arriving in her old Cabriolet on her first day in her 2002 outfits, drenched in CK One perfume. She still thinks popularity is the ultimate goal of high school. She is desperate to rejoin the cheer squad and become Prom Queen, the title denied her by her accident in 2002.
She meets counsellor Mr Tapper, and Seth, who is now school librarian, having returned to the school after breaking up with his girlfriend when living in DC.
Steph finds school much changed. A long table in the cafeteria avoids cool girl and cool boy hierarchies; and there is no longer a Prom King and Queen competition, as winners creates losers — indeed, the display of past winners in the hallway has been replaced by a tampon sculpture about the environment.
It becomes apparent though that these may be surface changes; the school cool girl, Bri (daughter of Tiffany and Blaine) is a hugely successful teen influencer with a mean streak. On the long lunch table Steph meets Janet, Yaz and Neil. They all agree to sign Steph’s petition to bring back the prom competition, but inform Steph that without Bri’s support it’ll get nowhere. Bri refuses, as it’s a paper petition and she’s made “a paper-free pledge”. Soon after, Bri posts an Instagram Reel mocking Steph’s age while pretending to call out ageism.
Steph goes to cheerleading practice, run by Martha. Everyone is Captain. Since Bri posted declaring cheerleading anti-feminist, the squad no longer do stunts either.
Steph spends the evening at Janet’s house with her new friends, as none of them have been invited to a big party. Steph puts on some music and teaches them all to dance, which morphs into a costumed Britney Spears routine.
Soon after, the cheerleading squad is performing at a PTA-run parent-Seniors event at the school. Steph’s squad hit the stage, beginning with a routine on consent, but it soon morphs into something sexy and much more entertaining. Everyone looks shocked apart from Blaine, who is thrilled that he finally understands something of modern school life. The next morning the video has gone viral and Steph has tens of thousands of new followers on Instagram. Her new popularity means she’s rewarded with a room full of gifts from various companies, including Grey Goose.
Martha and Steph have a heart to heart. Martha is still angry Steph abandoned her and Seth in their freshman year to be popular. She tells Steph she’s gay and that her school days were lonely and scary in case one of the cool people, including Steph, found out. She was hiding herself and now wants to create a school that kids like her can thrive at.
Tiffany, also an influencer, tells Bri to get the prom King and Queen competition reinstated.
Steph and Seth go to see Deep Impact, which they first saw together a few weeks before Steph was injured. Tiff and Blaine are there; Steph wants to make him jealous while enraging Tiff, so she and Seth pretend they are together with much suggestive coke drinking and popcorn-eating. Seth knows he’s been used but still goes with Steph to the old bowling alley where they bond. She even asks him to the prom!
Tiff arranges a prom party in Bri’s name and invites everyone but Steph, who finds the old key to Martha’s family beach house and also offers a party — telling her social media followers they can come if they vote for her for Prom Queen. She gets ready for prom, wearing the pink dress her mother left for her all those years ago. Her dad has morphed into prom dad, and is sure the now 37-year-old Seth has teenage designs on his daughter.
Thanks to Tiff’s machinations, Bri wins the prom queen vote with 1000 votes even though there are only 327 pupils, but withdraws from the race. Steph is crowned Prom Queen with Bri’s boyfriend Lance named Prom King. The king and queen dance to The Power Of Love (Jennifer Rush version, and the song Steph had wanted for the prom winners dance back in 2002). Steph lifts Lance as part of their dance.
They all go to Steph’s party including Bri, so Tiff reports the event to the police.
Martha turns up at the lake house, furious about Steph’s party in her property, and about Steph’s past and current treatment of her and Seth. She points out that none of Steph’s popular school friends came to visit her in hospital — just Seth and Martha. At Tiff’s house, she is raging at Bri for how the night has gone. She thinks they could have earned thousands from deals that night that they could have used as a donation to get Bri into college. Bri, however, wants to get in on her own merits. Tiff tells Bri she wants her daughter to have a perfect life like she has, something Blaine and Bri know isn’t true.
Steph gets a Lyft home, only to discover the driver is Deanna Russo, the ex Harding School prom queen. She tells Steph the important thing is the career not the popularity. Her husband had left her at 30 for a younger woman, and now she does two jobs; but she’s loving studying for a degree and looking to the future, not back into the past.
Home at last, Steph looks through her hospital birthday cards and discovers they were all from Seth and Martha.
Next morning at breakfast her dad explains her mum’s last wish was for her dad to teach Steph how to receive love. He reminds her that the people who love her are the only ones who count.
Steph and her dad film an apology message for social media, about popularity and friendship. She has realised that the class of ’22 shows everyone is unique; from now on she’s going to be the real Steph and asks for forgiveness from those she loves. The messages under her video are very supportive (not a single “Do better”!)
Tiff comes round to apologise as if she doesn’t, Bri won’t unblock her. Steph tells her she has an amazing daughter.
At the school graduation ceremony Steph finally graduates senior year, and also tries to make further amends, giving Martha money from the sold Cabriolet to pay for the lake house damage.
Janet is Valedictorian and in her speech launches her 2040 presidential campaign. The cheerleaders do the old Bulldogettes routine that Steph had asked Martha to put in the archive all those years ago. Steph invites Tiff up to dance. Seth asks Steph out and they kiss on the stage.
Mid credits scenes: there are various outtakes and bloopers. There is also a longer outtake scene at the end between Steph and head of counselling Mr Tapper about how Steph can get to college.