First released in 1978 and undoubtedly played at dozens of church youth group retreats for years afterwards, Senior Year tells the story of Steve and Angie.
Steve and Angie are both high school seniors. (Hence, the name….) They’re also both Christians. Steve used to be a jock who enjoyed drinking and having a good time. However, over the summer, he decided to give all that up and dedicate his life to Christ. The rest of his classmates aren’t sure how to deal with this. They all wonder what happened to the Steve that they used to know. They’re all worried that this new Steve is going to constantly try to preach to them. Steve confirms their suspicions by constantly trying to preach at them. As he quickly discovers, it can be awkward forcing your beliefs on people, especially when they’re just trying to make it from class to class. Still, the local young minister encourages Steve to keep trying.
Joe has no interest in what Steve is saying. Joe is a jock who doesn’t get all of that Christian stuff and kind of takes it personally the Steve is now religious. Joe decides that he’s going to date a Christian girl, just to upset Steve! Joe’s a real jerk. However, Joe starts to develop real feelings for her. He even trades in his van for a sports car, all in an effort to seem more respectable. Anyway, as things often go in these type of movies, it all leads to a tragedy that leaves one person in wheelchair but which also inspires everyone in the high school to start reading their bible. Steve finally manages to successfully witness to one of his coworkers. At no point does it seem to occur to anyone that maybe there was another way that message could have been spread that didn’t involve paralyzing someone for life.
Senior Year is a pretty typical faith-based high school film. One thing that I’ve noticed about these films is that they always take place in these upper middle class suburban high schools where nearly the entire student body is vehemently anti-Christian. I went to an upper middle class suburban high school and my experience was markedly different. That could just be because I’m from Texas but still, there was an element of paranoia to this film that felt more than a bit forced. It wasn’t enough for Joe to just not be interested in reading the Bible or going to church. No, Joe had to be a full-on sociopath who specifically tried to ruin a girl’s reputation just because she was a Christian. It’s all a bit melodramatic. It also doesn’t help that Steve comes across as everything that Joe claims he is. Despite the film’s intentions, Steve does come across as being preachy and a bit self-righteous. The actor playing him is believably awkward but also kind of creepy. Anyone who has ever had the experience of having a complete stranger start grilling you about your religious beliefs will empathize with those who don’t want to get trapped in a conversation with Steve.
After watching this film, I checked out its imdb page. I found two pieces of trivia. I have no idea if either of these are correct but, for the record, imdb claims that John Travolta was offered the role of the youth minister. That’s possible, I suppose. Though the film was released in 1978, it features a theater marquee advertising Marathon Man and Two-Minute Warning, which both came out in 1976. If the film was shot in 1976 than it was probably in pre-production in 1975. If the film was in pre-production in 1975, it’s totally possible that a relatively unknown John Travolta may have been offered the part. The other piece of trivia is that Kevin Costner appears as an extra during a high school basketball game. Costner was 21 in 1976 and was studying acting in college so, again, its possible. I certainly didn’t see him but, then again, I wasn’t looking.
Anyway, regardless of whether Costner is lurking in the background or not, Senior Year is forgettable. Today, it’s best viewed as being a time capsule of the era in which it was made. I mean, selling a van is a major plot point! This film couldn’t be more 70s if it tried.