There’s no doubt that the people who made Do Revenge truly love teen movies. It includes so many allusions, direct and indirect, to past great teen movies that I lost track. It knows the tropes and when they should be heightened or remixed to feel fresh. And, for the majority of its runtime, it’s just a damn good rich-teens-are-dirtbags romp.
In fact, the biggest flaw of Do Revenge might be that it loves teen movies too much; it knows how round and flexible the genre can be, how many institutions and norms they can eviscerate, and tries to do it all. This film has about three incompatible endings, though it still pivots away from a few of the nastiest, juiciest twists.
The film follows ex-queen bitch Drea (Camila Mendes), dethroned after one of her naughty Snapchat videos leaks, and gawky transfer student Eleanor (Maya Hawke), who was unceremoniously outed as lesbian and degraded at summer camp. They unite to “do revenge” — the film’s title coming from a running gag about the proper syntax of the phrase — and take down their perpetrators.
Whereas movies like Not Okay and Crush from earlier this year feel pandering and try-hard in their depiction of the very online Gen Z, Do Revenge is incisive and witty. For example, one of the movie’s biggest laugh is when Drea scrolls through social media as she receives oral sex. The banter simply crackles in a way that it will still be funny when it’s a time capsule several years from now.
The film is directed and co-written by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson whose career I will be following with great interest after this (she has one prior film and TV credit). She not only nails the snappy dialogue and a zippy pace of the script, but she assembles it into a few genuinely great scenes. Consider the accidental drug intoxication, probably my least favorite teen movie trope: Robinson frames it as renaissance painting come to life, with almost gothic portraiture of teens on shrooms. She always finds the sweet spot, relishing the nastiness without going trashy.
Even more impressively, she gives the film a distinct visual profile: The film is candy-coated in pastels. It is a delight to look at and brings out the poisoned honey flavor of the film.
Mendes is very good (making her the third Riverdale alum with a starring role in a 2022 teen comedy after Cole Sprouse in Moonshot and Lili Reinhart in Look Both Ways; where KJ Apa at?), though her performance is squarely in her wheelhouse and rarely surprising. Hawke, on the other hand, uses the film as a canvas and paints a masterpiece. She is incendiary on screen; she levels a character who goes through about three transformations and unites Eleanor’s various edges into a breathtaking performance.
The rest of the stuffed cast is special too. There are too many solid turns to count (I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back on this movie in ten years wondering how Netflix and Robinson got this cast into one film), but I want to shout out Sophie Turner’s unhinged cameo in particular. She overpowers her three minutes of screentime with an amazingly profane meltdown and an icy monologue.
Unfortunately, the film really stumbles through the the final act, simply by not knowing how to end, hopping from one logical endpoint to something totally perpendicular multiple times. Just make up your mind about who the “big bad” is already! Is it the patriarchy? One of our protagonists? Toxic party culture? Austin Abrams’ sleazy Max? At nearly two hours, the movie is at least fifteen minutes longer than it should be, and it all could have been cut from the closing half hour.
I think the film also pulls its punches on one specific wrinkle, and that is the obvious sexual tension between Hawke and Mendes: Their game of codependent revenge looks an awful lot like a seduction, but the film discards that idea before reaching any of the potentially provocative conclusions of that train of thought.
Nonetheless, Do Revenge is probably the best teen comedy of the year so far and, frankly, some of the most fun I’ve had watching any film in 2022.
- Review Project: 2022: Year in Film