Do Revenge, 2022.
Directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson.
Starring Camila Mendes, Maya Hawke, Austin Abrams, Rish Shah, Talia Ryder, Ava Capri, Alisha Boe, Paris Berelc, Jonathan Daviss, Maia Reficco, Sophie Turner, Eliza Bennett, Cassady McClincy, Maia Reficco, Rachel Matthews, and Sarah Michelle Geller.
Drea and Eleanor agree to go after one another’s bullies.
In the immortal words of the emo rock band My Chemical Romance, teenagers scare the living shit out of me. Do Revenge is not messing around with the revenge part.
Co-writer/first-time director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (also a writer on the recently released Thor: Love and Thunder, which, after watching this, I’m beginning to suspect she had nothing to do with regarding all the jokes that didn’t land in that Marvel spectacle) utilizes a seasons structure for its storytelling (a full year spanning Spring-Spring) stretching across a patriarchal takedown.
There are two protagonists, with Do Revenge first introducing viewers to private high school queen bee Drea (Camila Mendes), a self-absorbed 17-year-old part of the popular clique. She’s on her way to a Yale scholarship, has been photographed for Teen Vogue, and is the girlfriend of handsome but fake gender politics ally and class president Max (Austin Abrams). However, fitting into this vain inner circle is a role Drea happens to be playing, insecure about her middle-class lifestyle and gaining the system for social currency.
After making out in a parked car, Max brings up the future, mentioning that when they are off to university, there will be a distance between them. He then starts talking about love, suggesting that Drea film a sexualized video of herself so he has something to use when they can’t engage in physical contact. This leads to a different kind of physical contact once Drea goes to school the next day and is stared down by all, coming to learn that her nude video has been leaked by Max, even if the rest of the school doesn’t believe he would do such a thing. She punches him in the face and is suspended for the remainder of the year, forced to do community service on the farm surrounded by the laid-back vegan circle.
Cut to summer at a tennis camp where Drea meets Eleanor (Maya Hawke), a loner film aficionado (her bearded dragon is named “Oscar-Winner Olivia Colman,” which ties into the story more than meets the eye if you are familiar with her incredible body of work) that sides with her over a dispute involving an amusing cameo character played by Sophie Turner. The two continue talking, with Eleanor revealing that she is set to be transferred to the private school for the senior year, although she is not looking forward to it due to a traumatic incident with an attending student. Eleanor recounts that when she was 13, she became friends with a peer named Carissa (Ava Capri), whom she felt she could trust and say anything to, including coming out as a lesbian. Instead, Carissa spread nasty rumors and successfully painted Eleanor as a predator.
After some more quick but well-written bonding, Drea and Eleanor devise a plan to take revenge on each other’s enemy. It’s the perfect plan considering Eleanor doesn’t yet know anyone at the school, including the popular clique Drea fell out of after they (boys and girls, one of which is now dating Max) sided with Max, making it easy for her to infiltrate that circle. Meanwhile, Drea already happens to be doing community service working under Carissa.
Any plot rundown of Do Revenge should end there, as the revenge itself is darkly entertaining with multiple moral question marks. The script also cleverly observes gender roles, male privilege, and cancel culture. However, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson does not forget that Drea was once one of these rotten self-centered individuals, primarily concerned with how she can use Eleanor to her advantage and the new boy she is pining over, Russ (Rish Shah), rather than continuing a meaningful friendship. It’s also wise to depict how easy it is to get sucked into a popular crowd, losing oneself in the process, which Eleanor does even while developing a love interest in Max’s sister Gabbi (played by Talia Ryder), that genuinely likes her for who she is, but wants nothing to do with that toxic clique.
Some aspects strain believability (even for a wealthy white fuckboy skilled in telling girls what they want to hear for personal gain, Max’s goodwill with the entire school goes on a bit too long) and feel overwritten with some scenes from the supporting cast overplayed. But around the same time, the narrative goes in such an unexpected direction, partly because it feels recent films touching these subjects are both afraid to give teenagers a real-life R-rated edge and to play the story safe with can-do-no-wrong girl boss power.
It’s also beautifully shot by Brian Burgoyne, aware of how to frame every scene to mine emotion and humanity from these characters in a black comedy. The soundtrack is admittedly overdone; some needle-drops, such as a Kids in America cover or Billie Eilish’s Happier Than Ever are more than fitting, but there’s a sense that the script is tight enough to rely on words alone.
Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke are both excellent (especially the latter, who gets to have a full course meal chewing the scenery); it’s a combination of gifted talent and material on the page that allows them to be multidimensional, flawed characters. Bits and pieces of Do Revenge are ridiculous but easily overlooked, considering the film’s strong points and the anchoring character work. Put down Jennifer Kaytin Robinson as a filmmaker to watch out for the future.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com