"Do Revenge" an acerbic teen comedy bolstered by Mendes and Hawkes

Do Revenge (2022)

Hot people get even with other hot people in “Do Revenge,” a here-and-now high school comedy that gets points for hip deviousness but still knows its place in the teen-movie hierarchy. While the film does owe its existence to "Clueless," “Cruel Intentions,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” “Jawbreaker,” and “Mean Girls” (just to name a few), writer-director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (2019’s “Someone Great”) and co-writer Celeste Ballard (2021's "Space Jam: A New Legacy") compensate with a poppy, colorful energy and plenty of acerbic zingers. With a few tweaks, “Do Revenge” is what would have happened had Cher Horowitz and Tai originally teamed up to destroy their classmates’ lives. 

Rosehill Prep School junior Drea Torres (Camila Mendes) has worked hard to be the queen bee. Her entire clique is made up of trust-fund babies, but she’s had to be a chameleon and an over-achiever. Her entire life crumbles when her sex video sent to her popular boyfriend Max (Austin Abrams) gets leaked to the whole school. Dumped and ousted from her social standing, she’ll have to hold her head high through senior year before she can hopefully start over at Yale. Until then, Drea meets Eleanor (Maya Hawke), a new transfer student, at a summer tennis camp. They confide in one another, as Eleanor was made a queer pariah by crunchy-granola Carissa (Ava Capri), who also attends Rosehill. To solve their problems, they hatch a double revenge plan on their respective life-ruiners. Eleanor (after a makeover, of course) will have to fall in with Drea’s old friend group and win over her “fake-woke, misogynist motherfucker” of an ex, and Drea will have to close in on Carissa. It’s like “Strangers on a Train,” minus actual murder or the homoerotic subtext.

Even when it retracts its claws a bit, “Do Revenge” is still entertaining and cutthroat enough for a teen comedy that refers to teenage girls as “psychopaths.” It even has characters coining the term “Glennergy” (Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction” energy). Fortunately, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson and Celeste Ballard’s sharp script knows how to have its cake and eat it too, or have a snarky attitude and still takes its conniving characters’ feelings seriously. As elaborate as Drea and Eleanor’s revenge can be, they dish it out in mostly believable ways that surprisingly don’t even rely on social media. Then, in the last 40 minutes, things slightly go off the rails with a whirlwind of character-allegiance flipping. A recontextualizing reveal isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is, but the film does smoothly recover for a pleasing finish, including welcome closure over the end credits with Drea and Eleanor's respective love interests. 

The film's two constants are the well-matched and effervescent performances by Camila Mendes (TV’s “Riverdale”) and Maya Hawke (Netflix’s “Stranger Things”). As Drea and Eleanor, a cruelly stunning Mendes and a charismatic, adorably self-deprecating Hawke each have star quality and perfect comic timing together, all while donning Alana Morshead’s eye-catching and character-defining costumes of pastels and glitter. Because of the actors’ complete embodiment of these flawed but whip-smart characters, we feel like we eventually have a clear-eyed understanding of them, even if manipulation is their sport. Rounding out the engaging supporting cast are Austin Abrams, branching out from his usual nice-guy characters to play a performative narcissist and being quite good at it; Talia Ryder, very appealing and having a sweet, lovely way with Hawke, as Max’s cool, nonconformist sister Gabbi; Sophie Turner is a scream as one of Drea’s framed victims at tennis camp; and there’s also a fun, rather inspired bit of casting as the school’s headmistress. The soundtrack is also frequently terrific, blending the contemporaries with some ‘90s teen-movie touchstones (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “The Impression That I Get,” a “Kids in America” cover, Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You”), as well as the hits by The Cranberries and Meredith Brooks.

While it’s hardly anything new in a heightened movie world, an amusing triviality is that nobody ever seems to be studying, even though admission to an Ivy League school is the dream. Parents are also perpetually out of town or working all hours of the night so their 17-year-old kids can throw fancy soirees in their McMansions. “Do Revenge” may not be as subversive as it initially lets on, but as a glib tart of bitchiness turned sweetness, it’s worth its salt. Kathryn Merteuil, Courtney Shayne, and Regina George might even allow Drea and Eleanor to sit with them.

Grade: B -

Netflix is releasing “Do Revenge” (118 min.) to stream on September 16, 2022.