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‘Do Revenge’ a smart, satiric dark comedy

September 19, 2022
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I’ve long been a proponent of films set in high schools. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories, so there is that, but I’ve also found that there’s a lot of malleability inherent to high school movies. They can exist on their own merits, yes, but they can also serve as wonderful palettes upon which to explore other genres, tropes and ideas.

Think of it as the “X, but in high school” categorization.

The new Netflix film “Do Revenge,” directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson from a script she co-wrote with Celeste Ballard, is a great example of this kind of movie. It’s almost a pastiche of its influences, pulling from classic dark teen comedy and elevated cinematic and genre fare alike. Imagine “Strangers on a Train” getting the same sort of treatment that “Cruel Intentions” gave “Dangerous Liaisons” – it’s kind of like that.

This story of wronged teenagers joining forces to exact revenge on those who wronged them is a blackly comic joy, bringing together standard teen fare with a shadowy sense of humor. The combination isn’t always a perfect fit, but thanks to some sharp writing and a pair of strong lead performances, it works far more often than it doesn’t. It’s tough to make a movie that feels both like a throwback and of its moment, but “Do Revenge” manages the feat.

Drea (Camila Mendes) has risen to the top of the heap at her prestigious prep school. She is a top-tier student on the fast track to Yale – her lifelong dream – and is dating the coolest guy in school, the charming Max (Austin Abrams). Sure, all of her friends are rich kids and she’s on scholarship, but that’s no barrier between them.

Or is it?

She finds out just how disposable she is to these people when an intimate video – intended for Max’s eyes only – gets leaked to the entire student body at the end of her junior year. Max denies her accusations that he leaked the video, claiming he was hacked, but Drea’s reaction to her humiliation leads to sides being taken … which goes about as you’d expect.

Drea spends the summer working at a tennis camp, where she winds up gradually befriending Eleanor (Maya Hawke), an awkward outcast who is transferring to Drea’s school for her senior year. Eleanor has her own past humiliation – one that has impacted her entire life going forward.

The connection is begrudging on Drea’s part – at least until, upon her return, she discovers that Max has found a way to use her humiliation to celebrate himself. She refuses to take this lying down, and so enlists Eleanor’s help. The two of them will exchange targets – Eleanor will go after Max, Drea will go after Eleanor’s foe Carissa (Avi Capri) – in an effort to exact their revenge without being discovered.

Do hijinks ensue? Oh, you better believe it.

Both young women find themselves doing whatever it takes to make their shared enemies pay. Even as Drea’s grades slip – the school headmaster (Sarah Michelle Gellar in a wonderfully meta casting choice) lets her know that things aren’t going great – she obsesses over making Max and the rest of her fair-weather friends pay for what they’ve done to her. But even as she and Eleanor go after their former friends, a new friendship begins to form. Will Drea’s need for revenge supersede this new kinship? Or will she finally be able to move on from the past?

Look, you might not have known that you wanted a high school-set Hitchcock riff with serious dark comedy vibes. But trust me – you do want it. And “Do Revenge” delivers it.

While the film itself is unmistakably a Gen-Z joint, “Do Revenge” proudly, prominently displays its influences throughout. There’s the “Strangers on a Train” thing, of course – we actually see a character reading the Patricia Highsmith novel at one point – but the meat of the movie is derived from elevated high school fare. Look closely and you’ll see “Mean Girls” and “Cruel Intentions.” Look closer and you’ll detect hints of “Heathers” and the essence of “Election.” The movie wears its forebears on its sleeve.

But just because the movie is upfront about the derivations of its influences doesn’t mean that it itself is derivative. What “Do Revenge” does is evoke all of these ideas while also crafting its own story. Sure, you can see echoes of other films, but this movie very much stands on its own, thanks to tight, well-crafted writing, capable direction and a strong cast.

Let’s talk about that cast, actually. Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke are wonderful together, with real chemistry. The dynamic between them is a fluid one, but we never at any point lose sight of their connection, even when things go sideways (and they go sideways A LOT). They both have charm to spare, which is key, because maintaining a level of likability while doing the things that they do is the only way this movie works. And it does work.

The rest of the cast is varying degrees of solid. Abrams has the perfect energy for this kind of deceptive alpha (though he does somehow manage to look 14 and 35 at the same time). Gellar is good in the role while also serving as a lovely shout-out to the film’s forebears. And the collection of prep school classmates is quite good, with everyone knowing their roles and hitting their marks. None of the hangers-on are particularly memorable, but in a way, that’s almost the point. Their generic prettiness is a feature, not a bug.

“Do Revenge” is a surprisingly sophisticated offering, devilishly funny with a keen satiric edge. Plus, it has a quality central pairing and just the right amount of self-awareness. Sure, it goes to some dark places to get some of those laughs, but hey – it IS high school, after all.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 19 September 2022 09:20

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