Has anyone ever wronged you? Odds are, if you asked anyone this question, the answer would be a resounding “yes.” Maybe you’ve even had unnecessarily detailed fantasies about how you would get revenge on the wrong-doer. (Is that just me?) But actually going through with revenge requires a significant amount of mental gymnastics and would most likely be very problematic. Do Revenge, as the title suggests, indulges in this very idea and smartly does so via the age group that is the most back-stabby, untrustworthy, and downright terrifying: teenagers. But if you’re looking for a typical teen movie riddled with clichés and stereotypes, keep scrolling through your Netflix queue. This daring dark comedy both pays homage to and deconstructs the ‘90s high school set films you know and love, and does so with deliciously satisfying results.
The film is narrated by its two lead revenge-seekers Drea (Camila Mendes) and Eleanor (Maya Hawke), two high schoolers who, given their social circles and priorities, would never have crossed paths if it wasn’t for their common goal. The opening sequence effectively catches the audience up to speed on how Drea, the ultimate alpha, queen bee, type A, you name it — has worked tirelessly to have the perfect life (or at least to look like she has the perfect life). With the help of her best friend Tara (Alisha Boe), she throws a party in her honor complete with balloons and cupcakes with her face plastered on them to celebrate landing a spot on Teen Vogue’s Next Gen List.
She’s surrounded by her so-called friends and allegedly loyal boyfriend, Max (Austin Abrams), the most popular and revered person at their uber-wealthy, picturesque, and snobby private school. As Drea so brilliantly puts it in one of her narrations: “Rosehill is an orchestra and Max is its conductor.” He selfishly asks Drea to make a sexy video for him to reference at his leisure while she’s busy working tennis camp. Drea complies, but Max then leaks it to the entire school. Of course, he plays the victim and says he was hacked, though this doesn’t help Drea’s case. She’s become the talk of the town in the worst way, not in the way she prefers. She even asks her friend, “Am I being paranoid, or is everyone staring at me right now? And, like, not in a good way.”
Enter Eleanor, the cool, hat-backward, reserved outcast. She plays by her own rules, which typically leads to snap judgments and eye-rolls from her peers, especially at the elite tennis camp she decides to give a whirl. She’s the “Billie Jean King in a sea of Maria Sharapova’s” who really wishes she was allowed to bring her emotional support bearded dragon—hilariously named after Oscar winner Olivia Colman—along for the summer. When she overhears camper Erica (Sophie Turner) bad-mouthing Drea in the bathroom, she tells Drea, who for the life of her can’t understand why someone as off-beat and not-chic as Eleanor would waste her time by talking to her. But, when Drea’s car won’t start moments later, she reluctantly accepts Eleanor’s offer to give her a ride. Why would Eleanor be so willing to help out Drea, the very type of girl that gives people like Eleanor a hard time? Well, because she knows what it’s like to be a “social pariah.” She confides to Drea that, when she was thirteen, she told her first crush Carissa (Ava Capri) that she was queer. This admission morphed into a rumor courtesy of Carissa, who told everyone that Eleanor tried to hold her down and kiss her. Ever since then, Eleanor’s kept to herself, mostly because she didn’t have a choice: she was labeled a predator. At the start of the new school year, Drea and Eleanor cross paths on the elite, expansive campus, and they come up with the titular idea to do each other’s revenge.
When it comes to story execution, director and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson knows what she’s doing. She wrote the sleeper hit Someone Great, and also has her hands in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having co-written the recent Thor: Love and Thunder with Taika Waititi and produced the Disney+ series Hawkeye. Do Revenge uniquely alternates between the two wildly different perspectives of Drea and Eleanor to not only show how different their lives are, but to emphasize how intricately woven this detailed narrative is. In addition to crafting a complex story, Robinson also realizes the importance of finding just the right group of actors who could bring her vision to life. Mendes completely owns Drea’s righteous nature. In one scene, she walks Eleanor through what’s involved in ruining someone’s reputation so seamlessly it’s as if she’s reading aloud a recipe, an indication that people like her are not only always expecting their “friends” to turn on them, but are also ready to efficiently tear down anyone that’s asking for it.
At the same time, Mendes isn’t afraid to pull back the curtain on the ugly reality that comes with being perceived as “perfect.” In a particularly emotional moment, a teary Drea tells Eleanor, “Sometimes, it just hurts to exist, you know?” Similarly, Hawke’s grounded performance as the outed outcast is multidimensional and nuanced. Her chill, more subdued nature and effortless delivery of witty lines such as “I talked to Carissa for like, one minute, and it felt like dipping my toe into in Dante’s eighth circle of hell,” is a sharp contrast to her jittery, beloved, monologue-prone Stranger Things character Robin, which further proves Hawke’s range. Both Drea and Eleanor vacillate between being the hero and villain, which not only makes them more interesting, but more relatable and authentic.
The cast of conniving characters, which has been referred to as “the Revengers,” is brought to life by an eclectic assortment of actors. Talia Ryder’s flirty and charming Gabbi who takes a liking to Eleanor is also a standout. Alisha Boe nails the two-faced Tara whose commitment is as reliable as a phone running on 5% battery. Turner, though only in a handful of scenes, shatters her Game of Thrones image and delivers an outrageous, physical, and freaking hilarious performance. Unlike many movies that have teenagers at the center, the characters in Do Revenge aren’t playing caricatures or exaggerating their performance to steal the spotlight, and that’s why it works so well. Robinson and Celeste Ballard’s realistic dialogue keeps the plot’s at-times outrageous moments from veering too far off course.
On one level, the film is also a self-aware satire, as it playfully skewers the potentially over-the-top wokeness on campuses (there’s a designated safe space for people that get offended) and the hypocritical peacocking that comes when out-of-touch people try too hard to be an “ally.” Instead of putting in the work and genuinely wanting to be a force for change, many of the characters wear the “ally” badge to simply reap the rewards that come with it. Abrams’ Max is the embodiment of this, as he, in an effort to keep up his slick persona, creates the Cis Hetero Men Championing Female-Identifying Students League. But following the showboat-y speech, he continues to be his sleazy, smarmy self. (If you were ever on the fence about this Max guy, him pronouncing “privacy” like “privvacy” should be the icing on his icky cake.) The film repeatedly reminds us that, at the end of the day, everyone is always performing, a sentiment that is both upsetting and weirdly comforting.
The movie starts to feel like it’s nearing the finishing line around the halfway point. The revenge that Drea and Eleanor set out to do is, well, almost done. This clearly indicates that something is about to disrupt the world and relationships we’ve accepted up until this moment. And boy does it ever. Do Revenge doesn’t slip into formulaic storytelling, which although a bit unexpected and jarring, manages to keep things (very) interesting. Bold choices are made (some of which pay off more than others) that will not only leave your mouths and eyes wide open, but will also have you completely rethinking where your allegiances lie. Who should you feel bad for? Who’s at the point of no return? Where is this twisted revenge tale heading? It becomes clear why the term “Hitchcockian” is so easily associated with this film. Everything you thought you knew about these characters slips away, and you realize that no one is to be trusted. It can sometimes be tricky to trace all the grudges and keep track of who’s mad at who, but that’s certainly preferred over a film that has cookie-cutter characters and conventions.
There are many ways this movie could end, but there isn’t really a “right” or obvious choice. The ending will leave you both satisfied for several reasons and also scrunching your brow. It’s quite possible you might not know exactly how you feel and will be thinking about it long after the colorful credits roll. What you will know, however, is that a movie that’s as unpredictable, funny, and reflective as Do Revenge will be even better the second time around.