Review: ‘This Is The Year,’ starring Lorenzo James Henrie, Vanessa Marano, Jake Short, Bug Hall, Alyssa Jirrels, Gregg Sulkin and Jeff Garlin

October 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Bug Hall, Jake Short, Alyssa Jirrels, Lorenzo James Henrie and Vanessa Marano in “This Is the Year” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“This Is the Year”

Directed by David Henrie

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the romantic comedy “This Is the Year” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: On the verge of graduating from high school, a nerdy student tries to win over his dream girl, even though she already has a boyfriend.

Culture Audience: “This Is the Year” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching predictable and unimaginative teen romantic comedies.

Gregg Sulkin and Alyssa Jirrels in “This Is the Year” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“This Is the Year” is yet another vapid teen romantic comedy about a nerd who’s pining over his dream girl. It rips off the same formula that’s already been done by countless other movies with the same type of story. There’s almost nothing that’s very charming about “This Is the Year,” as it lumbers along to its predictable ending. Expect to see a lot of annoying characters played by people who look too old to be in high school.

Directed by David Henrie, “This Is the Year” is one of those movies that was made primarily by family members so they could give each other jobs in a movie. David Henrie’s brother Lorenzo James Henrie is the movie’s star: He plays the dorky protagonist. One of the movie’s producers is James “Jim” Henrie, the father of David Henrie and Lorenzo James Henrie. It’s undoubtedly nepotism, but the result is an amateurish movie that has absolutely no originality in the story arc and how everything ends.

David Henrie co-wrote the “This Is the Year” screenplay with Sienna Aquilini, Pepe Portillo and Bug Hall. All that means is that it took four people to put their names on a screenplay that uses many of the same ideas that numerous other teen romantic comedies have already used. You can predict in your sleep what’s going to happen in this movie.

How many times have we seen this plot in teen romantic comedies? A socially awkward outcast at high school has a secret crush on the girl of his dreams, who’s pretty, popular, and barely knows that he exists, or she wants to put him in the “friend zone.” In many cases, she already has a boyfriend or a love interest who is the nerd’s chief rival. The nerd comes up with a scheme to win over her affections, but various obstacles and embarrassments get in the way.

Meanwhile, if the nerd has a teenage girl who’s his platonic best friend, she helps him in his quest to date the dream girl. However, things happen where it becomes obvious who will eventually end up together at the end. Someone has an “a-ha” moment, and there’s a race against time for someone to reveal true feelings to someone else. It’s all so cliché and boring.

If teen romantic comedies stick to this formula like hack filmmaker glue, the movie can sometimes be enjoyable if the performances are good and if the screenplay has hilarious dialogue. Unfortunately, “This Is the Year” has none of that. Adding to this movie’s lack of authenticity, the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to cast actors who look believably close to being the ages of high school students when these actors are supposed to be portraying high school students.

In “This Is the Year,” Lorenzo James Henrie is Josh, the geeky central character. Josh is close to graduating from an unnamed high school in an unnamed U.S. city. (“This Is the Year” was actually filmed in Alabama, but no one in this movie sounds like they’re from Alabama.) Josh lives next door to his best friend Molly (played by Vanessa Marano), who is homeschooled. Josh and Molly both work part-time at a local movie theater. Molly is intelligent and has a fun-loving attitude toward life. She completely understands Josh and vice versa. (You know where this is going, of course.)

Josh’s only other close friend is a fellow student named Mikey (played by Jake Short), who can be somewhat bratty and sarcastic. Josh and Mikey are in the same graduating class at their high school. Mikey lives with his older brother Donnie (played by Bug Hall), who is in his 30s. Donnie became Mikey’s guardian, ever since their widower father ran off with a woman shortly after Donnie and Mikey’s mother died of cancer. This abandonment has left emotional scars on the brothers that they don’t really want to talk about with anyone.

Josh’s last big assignment for an unnamed class is to write an essay about what he learned from his experiences in high school. The teacher of the class is Mr. Elmer (played by Jeff Garlin), who is concerned because Josh hasn’t handed in the essay by the deadline. If Josh doesn’t complete this assignment, he won’t be able to graduate. When Mr. Elmer talks to Josh about it, Josh insists that he can’t finish the essay until he’s experienced the last day of high school.

Why does Josh feel this way? As Josh explains to Mr. Elmer, he’s obsessed with a 1980s teen drama movie called “Fireworks at Beaumont Prep.” In that movie, the teen protagonist had a high school experience that changed dramatically when he got the girl of his dreams on his last day of high school. Josh feels like he can relate to this character, which is portrayed by an actor called Patrick J. Michael (played by “This Is the Year” director David Henrie).

Josh tells Mr. Elmer, “I can’t describe my high school experience yet because it’s not over.” Mr. Elmer gives Josh an extension of a few days to finish the essay. His essay is now due on a Sunday, which we all know will be the same day that Josh will have something life-changing to write about by the time this movie ends. What could possibly happen in a few days that could change Josh’s life?

It just so happens that Josh has found out that Mikey and Donnie’s cousin Zoey (played by Alyssa Jirrels) has moved back into the area because of her parents’ recent divorce. Josh hasn’t seen Zoey since they were very young kids, and she didn’t make a good impression on him then because Zoey bit him at a party. However, Josh changes his mind about Zoey when he sees what she looks like now: Zoey has blossomed into a stereotypical “dream girl” who’s in these types of movies: blonde, pretty and thin. Josh is instantly smitten.

There’s a big problem for Josh though: Zoey already has a boyfriend. He’s a stuck-up British guy in his 20s named Kale (played by Gregg Sulkin), who is a rich and well-connected aspiring artist. After Zoey graduates from high school, Zoey and Kale have plans to move to Los Angeles, where Kale wants to pursue his artist career.

And what do you know: To Josh’s dismay, Zoey tells him that the school is letting her graduate a few days earlier than the rest of the class, and she’s moving to Los Angeles the next day. The timeline in this movie is weird and makes no sense. In one scene, Josh and Zoey see each other for the first time in several years. When Josh is at school after his awestruck “reunion” with Zoey, he has a meeting with Mr. Elmer about his essay being due. It’s supposed to be about a less than a week before Josh’s last day of high school.

But then, a few scenes later, Zoey tells Josh that she’s graduating early. That means (1) either Josh didn’t know that Zoey was a student at the school for quite some time or (2) Zoey is having one of the shortest school stints ever as a transfer student. The first scenario is highly unlikely since Zoey is the cousin of Josh’s close friend Mikey, who would’ve mentioned it if she had moved back in the area months or weeks ago. The second scenario is more likely what the filmmakers want viewers of this movie to believe.

When Zoey and Josh see each other for the first time in years, he’s carpooling with Mikey, while Donnie is driving. Donnie and Mikey stop over at Zoey’s place to pick her up to take her to school. The timeline is off-kilter and frankly quite stupid in how quickly all of these things have happened to Josh in just a few days: He discovered that Zoey is in his same graduating class, she’s graduating early, and she’s moving to Los Angeles with Kale the next day. And somehow, Josh thinks he’s in love with Zoey and can win her over in this short period of time. It’s not romantic. It’s creepy and obsessive.

Zoey and Kale are taking a road trip for their relocation to Los Angeles. Josh is a big fan of the alternative rock group Lovely the Band, and he finds out that Zoey is a big fan too. And what a coincidence: Lovely the Band is headlining at an upcoming sold-out festival. (Lovely the Band has a cameo performance in the movie, because you already know that the characters are going to this festival.) Zoey doesn’t have the wristband tickets needed to go to the concert, so Josh lies and tells her that he has these wristbands. Josh’s scheme is to somehow find a way to get Zoey to go with him to this concert, which will take place over a weekend. And he doesn’t have a car.

Meanwhile, Donnie has recently bought a dirty and beat-up food truck because he and Mikey have plans to start a food truck business together after Mikey graduates from high school. Donnie says he’s going to refurbish the truck, and he expects Mikey to help him. The truck has a “Star Wars”-inspired name with a bad pun: The Milleniyum Falcon, because the food is supposed to be “yummy.” However, Mikey has a secret: He applied to Texas A&M University and he got accepted. Mikey is afraid to tell Donnie, because he doesn’t want Donnie to feel like Mikey will abandon Donnie for college.

Josh is desperate for transportation to the concert. Apparently, he doesn’t have a car at home that he could use, and he doesn’t have the money to rent a car. It should come as no surprise that Josh lies to Mikey and Donnie by saying that he has wristbands for all of them to see Lovely the Band, and they should take the Milleniyum Falcon on a road trip to the concert—on one condition: Zoey needs to go with them too. Josh says that the wristbands will be there for him to pick up at the venue’s will call center.

Molly knows about Josh’s deceitful scheme, and she insists on going on the road trip too. Molly says that she wants to make sure that nothing goes wrong with Josh. Sure, Molly. Whatever you say.

And what about Zoey’s boyfriend Kale and their plans to move to Los Angeles? Kale suddenly gets an opportunity to meet with someone who can help him with his career. And the meeting is around the same time that Zoey wants to go on the road trip to the concert. Gee, what a coincidence.

Kale isn’t too pleased about Zoey spending time with what he thinks are a bunch of dorks, but he’s more concerned about advancing his career. Zoey is 18 and a legal adult, so there’s nothing that can stop her from going. (Parents are practically non-existent in this movie.) And so, Zoey ends up going on this road trip with Josh, Molly, Mikey and Donnie in a junkpile food truck named the Milleniyum Falcon. You can easily figure out what happens from then on.

There’s sort of a bizarre subplot with “This Is the Year” director David Henrie portraying a guy in his late 20s or early 30s named Sebastian, who meets these travelers during the trip. Sebastian is supposed to be an exact look-alike for Patrick J. Michael, the “Fireworks at Beaumont Prep” actor whom Josh idolizes. (Josh and other people repeatedly mention the physical resemblance.) Sebastian immediately fixates on Molly and makes it known that he wants to date her. It’s kind of inappropriate because she’s supposed to be a high school student, and he knows it.

Yes, technically Molly could be the age of consent (which is 18 in most U.S. states), but it’s still an icky part of the movie because Molly is not emotionally mature enough to be dating a man that age. Out of all of the movie’s principal actors who are depicting high school students, Marano is the only one who comes the closest to looking like she could be in high school. All the other “high school students” in the movie look old enough to be closer to the age of 30 instead of 18.

There are many other unrealistic and dopey scenarios that take place in “This Is the Year.” The entire movie is built on a flimsy premise anyway. And viewers won’t have much sympathy for Josh and his pathetic lies. Zoey is your basic bland beauty in movies like this one. Josh’s attraction to her is obviously mostly physical, which makes him look almost as shallow as conceited Kale.

The only characters in the movie who don’t come across as people who deserve to have duct tape put over their mouths are Molly and Donnie, but even they have moments that are irritating to watch. Molly goes along with Josh’s horrible con game, which puts her on a certain level of sleazy. Donnie is harmless and goofy, but he really needs to get a life if he’s hanging out this much with high schoolers in his free time.

In addition to the horrendous screenplay, “This Is the Year” doesn’t have any acting performances that rise above mediocre. The movie’s comedy is very phony and forced. And there are absolutely no surprises at all. Well, maybe one big surprise: This movie is so hackneyed and boring, you might be surprised if you can get through it all without falling asleep.

Vertical Entertainment released “This Is the Year” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 24, 2021.

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