Powered by a self-aware screenplay that skewers performative wokeness and toxic patriarchy, Do Revenge is a fun little companion piece to writer-director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s 2016 show Sweet/Vicious. Prematurely cancelled after just one season, Sweet/Vicious was a darkly comedic vigilante story about two young women who exact vengeance against sexual abusers on their college campus. Sensing cheap talent, Marvel swept in. Robinson went on to co-write Thor: Love and Thunder for the studio, an early blot on her filmography that will eventually be buried under the wonderful things that she will surely accomplish in her promising career.
Starring in-house Netflix talents Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke as a couple of ‘wounded soldiers on the battlefield of adolescence’, Do Revenge combines the social satire of Clueless and the psychological thrills of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. The sensibilities, however, are strictly streaming.
A radiant Mendes plays Drea Torres, a social climber who turns into a social pariah after a private video of hers is leaked on the internet — presumably by her douchey boyfriend — destroying the ‘perfect life’ that she meticulously crafted for herself over 17 years. In her wry introductory narration, Drea compares herself to Icarus. “I flew too close to the sun and my boyfriend leaked my sex tape,” she deadpans. Drea never fit in with the affluent crowd at her school, and there’s a sense that despite her best efforts to assimilate, she never quite stopped feeling like an imposter.
Her emotional foil (and future toxic soulmate) is a timid girl named Eleanor, played by Hawke. Eleanor hides in the shadows, never leaves her house over the weekends, and counts a pet lizard named Oscar Winner Olivia Colman as her best friend. But crucially, she is the only one who didn’t watch Drea’s private video. The two don’t know it yet, but they’re already on the path to becoming besties.
After meeting at a tennis club over the summer — a hat-tip to Strangers on a Train perhaps? — Drea and Eleanor find that they can be vulnerable with each other without being bothered by the hierarchies of high school. They bond over the betrayals that they’ve suffered at the hands of people they thought they could trust. While Drea’s ex humiliated her in front of the whole school (and the world) — he even had the audacity to date her best friend immediately after they broke up — Eleanor was accused of assault by the only person she’d come out to. “Hurt people hurt people,” Eleanor’s therapist told her. But she didn’t buy it. Teenage girls are evil, she declares, and she’d do anything to watch her tormentor burn. As would Drea. And this is when, standing next to each other in a nondescript washroom, they come up with the harebrained scheme to ‘do revenge’ on each other’s behalf.
At two hours long, Do Revenge could have been far more effective had Robinson found it within herself to chop out 20-odd minutes. The viewing experience would’ve been smoother, and the satire would’ve been sharper. But a final-act twist is so deliciously subversive — and so effortlessly foreshadowed — that you can’t help but forgive the film for some of its previous missteps, including some pacing issues that rear their head in the second act.
No metaphorically charged high school comedy, at least in the last decade, can come close to matching the brilliance of Brian Duffield’s Spontaneous. And Do Revenge doesn’t either, but its smash-the-patriarchy spirit and clarity of vision are easy to get behind. Especially when the ‘villain’, played by Timothée Chalamet-light Austin Abrams, is so utterly irredeemable. And Robinson isn’t afraid to push her heroines to the edge either. No spoilers, but at one point in the film, you’ll wonder if they can even be described as the heroines at all.
But the tone, despite the undercurrent of seriousness that always runs through the film, is unwaveringly chipper. In other words, Do Revenge and Euphoria are universes apart in their treatment of the teenage experience. If anything, Robinson must be appreciated for denouncing the manufactured dirtiness of Sam Levinson’s popular HBO show in favour of a more candy-coloured 90s aesthetic. Her soundtrack, for instance, includes hits by Dolores O’Riordan and Harvey Danger, in addition to songs by younger-skewing artists such as Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish — mixing millennial mawkishness with the disingenuity of Gen Z hyper-feeling.
Do Revenge doesn’t rewrite the rulebook of the genre, but it certainly has fun ripping out the pages that don’t pass the vibe check.
Director – Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Cast – Camila Mendes, Maya Hawke, Austin Abrams, Rish Shah, Ava Capri, Talia Ryder, Sophie Turner, Sarah Michelle Gellar
Rating – 3/5