Synopsis – Drea and Eleanor agree to go after one another’s bullies.
My Take – With countless films to the genre, it has well been shoehorned that an American high school is a tough place to survive, especially if you are not among the popular ones. Add to that the hyper-awareness around Gen-Z’s ideas about politics, sexuality, consent, and toxic masculinity, high school popularity contests have only more sophisticated.
A probable reason why most of us tend to root for the underdog in such films. The nice guy/girl who we all believe deserves a happy ending irrespective of the bad choices he/she makes throughout the run time.
On the surface, director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson‘s sophomore directorial effort (following 2019’s Someone Great), which she co-wrote with Celeste Ballard appears to be just another entrant into that canon populated by films like Heathers (1988), Clueless (1995), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), Mean Girls (2004), among others.
However, while the film contains all the make-up of acerbic, classic teen films, it’s most obvious albeit dark inspiration comes from Alfred Hitchcock’s oft-copied 1951 film Strangers on a Train. Only instead of focusing on a twisty murder scheme, this Netflix release which stars established teen drama stars Camila Mendes (Riverdale) and Maya Hawke (Stranger Things) centers on a plot to kill off the social status of two members of the It crowd, who wronged them.
Though similar in tone with Paramount+‘s excellent Honor Society (2022) starring Angourie Rice, powered by a self-aware screenplay that skewers performative wokeness and toxic patriarchy, the film makes for a very fun often thrilling take on the mainstream high school comedy. Touching lightly on class awareness and queer politics, the film despite its campy tone also does establish firmly that teenage girls are ruthless, as unlikely revelations throughout the film’s course prove that hormone raged boys aren’t the only toxic ones on campus.
The story follows Drea (Camila Mendes), an it-girl on scholarship who on the cusp of her senior year at Miami’s prestigious Rosehill High School seems to have it all. A popular boyfriend in the golden boy Max (Austin Abrams), the adoration of her peers, and a clear path to Yale. But when Max ”accidentally” leaks her sex tape, Drea finds her picture-perfect life snatched away overnight. Convinced that he is lying, Drea even ends up assaulting him in front of the whole school, instantly getting labeled as an abuser.
Forcing the headmistress (Sarah Michelle Gellar) to put her on behavioral probation, letting Drea rage with her inner turmoil. That is until she meets Eleanor (Maya Hawke), a kooky transfer student with a hidden past at tennis camp. As Eleanor ends up revealing that she has an enemy of her own: Carissa (Ava Capri), a former summer camp crush who outed Eleanor and falsely painted her as a queer predator. Recognizing a kindred maligned spirit, Drea hatches a plan for them both to get even; they can avoid suspicion by taking over each other’s revenge.
Acting as a contemporary riff on an age-old classic. The smash-the-patriarchy spirit and clarity of vision are easy to get behind. Especially when Max is so utterly irredeemable and director Robinson isn’t afraid to push her heroines to the edge either. Sure, like other films in the mean-girls high school sub-genre, the film focuses on convoluted social plots and vicious popular cliques. But it isn’t derivative or a cliché. Instead, director Robinson and co-writer Celeste Ballard smartly update certain plot points.
The script is full of pithy one-liners that keep the overstuffed action buoyant; it’s easy to forgive extraneous characters and loose ends when you’re being bombarded with clever quips. The revenge plots too quickly escalate to the indefensible, such as repeating the original sin of leaking personal messages.
The film is especially spectacular when it focuses on the revenge plots, or Eleanor and Drea’s increasingly toxic relationship. But, despite all of its changes from the ordinary teen film formula, the film never loses its peppy vibe that makes these genre films so easy to watch. It still remains a flick about two teenage girls looking for their way in life and finding handling their emotions difficult.
One wonderful thing that the writers avoid is giving it a coming-of-an-age turn midway. There are innumerable projects in the past that have taken refuge in this allied archetype over the years to give a semblance of sincerity. The film sets off on its own path from the start and tows the line until the very end.
Yes, at considering its run time, the film could have been far more effective had the film cut down a little and avoided certain segments like the unnecessary love angle between Drea and Russ (Rish Shah). One unfulfilled string was the unexplored relationship between Eleanor and Gabbi (Talia Ryder) which could have been something special. Yet, the film is a complete winner especially for its final-act twist that is so deliciously subversive and so effortlessly foreshadowed that you can’t help but forgive the film for some of its previous missteps, and offers enough refreshing zaps to actually leave a mark.
It also helps that Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke share a breezy chemistry. In one of her rare leading feature roles, Mendes confidently shoulders the film’s twists and turns, getting the chance to portray a wounded vulnerability that she rarely gets to embody as Veronica Lodge in Riverdale. Fresh off another seismic season of Stranger Things, Maya Hawke builds upon the effortless charm that propelled her to breakout stardom on the Netflix series. Eleanor’s sharp edges give Hawke the chance to show off even more of her range in a charismatic leading role.
Austin Abrams seems to having a great time playing his role. In supporting roles, Alisha Boe, Rish Shah, Talia Ryder, Ava Capri, Maia Reficco, Cassady McClincy, Eliza Bennett, Jonathan Daviss, Paris Berelc and Sophie Turner are excellent. Sarah Michelle Gellar also appears in a small but memorable role. On the whole, ‘Do Revenge’ is a fun grippy teen comedy thriller with an intelligent modern twist.
Directed – Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Rated – TVMA
Run Time – 118 minutes