Grippy teen comedy has a sadistic flair
You normally wouldn’t expect a Netflix movie about teen revenge to be this good. Yes, I have already revealed my cards but Do Revenge is a film that is mostly not unlikeable, despite having flaws of its own. The age-old problem with such films is the lack of good writing and depth. Oh, and shallow characters. Stories of this sort are told without nuance or gravitas, only made to attract the average young cinemagoer to do business. The genre has been heavily commoditized, mind you, and Netflix has more often than not become the unwitting facilitator.
Do Revenge brushes aside those low, dated industry standards and has a fresh – albeit a bit dark – twist that even manages to indulge itself in relevant competing ideas about gender differences and patriarchy.
Another good movie with a similar tone you must check out is Honor Society, starring Angourie Rice. Many parts of Do Revenge reminded me of it, although the two projects take different paths. Do Revenge revolves around an ironic friendship struck between two girls burning up with revenge fever. Drea (Camilla Mendes) is in perfectenschlag. She couldn’t write a better underdog story for herself. But it all comes crashing down when her ex-boyfriend (formerly not ‘ex’) leaks a “private video” she sent him.
She punches Max (Austin Abrams), who is a big deal with a rich father, in front of the entire school, getting a temporary suspension. Tennis camp followed by community service in the winters awaits Drea. At the camp, she meets Eleanor (Maya Hawke), a mostly reserved, straightforward girl, who is joining Drea’s school Rosehill, in a few months.
They get to talking and discover that each carries a fresh wound in their hearts. They want revenge and decide to help each other by taking it out on the other person’s respective target. A true friendship blossoms but a dark secret from the past looms over like a heavy cloud, bringing things into perspective for Drea. First thing’s first. The writing in Do Revenge is certainly above average. That is its main USP, something that most of its peers usually don’t have. Neither is the narrative one-dimensional nor predictable, but the characters also have great personalities. They are well fleshed out and developed to some end. A lot of attention is given to their arches, carefully constructed within the plot itself.
It is emotionally engaging to hear them talk because the dialogue is not generic and tacky. Most of it is finetuned to fit the billing. Their issues only surface after much probing and not without the need for them to come out. They also have great chemistry among themselves. Drea and Eleanor are so fun to hear at times that you would be tempted to roll back the seconds and go at it again.
Even as rivals, they flourish and manage to bring menacing energy that is impactful without feeling like a jarring diversion. Maya Hawke also shares impressive exchanges with Austin Abram, although easily too realistic to a fault on occasions. And once you have the characters nailed down, the rest of the job gets easier because they are the ones who show you the way ahead.
Despite all of its changes from the ordinary teen movie formula, Do Revenge never loses its peppy vibe that makes these genre films so easy to watch. It still remains a flick about two teenage girls looking for their way in life and finding handling their emotions difficult. One wonderful thing that the writers avoid is giving it a coming-of-an-age turn midway. There are innumerable projects in the past that have taken refuge in this allied archetype over the years to give a semblance of sincerity. Do Revenge sets off on its own path from the start and tows the line until the very end. The ensemble performance is mostly well-rounded. The screenplay admirably identifies its priorities and director Jennifer Robinson uses her resources accordingly.
Thematically, some wayward feminist undertones prove to be annoying. Their presence seems to stem from an imposed obligation that the film did not want to take on. The thought process probably was to use it in making the story more inclusive, and multi-dimensional, and to appease certain factions of the audience. The unnecessary love angle between Drea and Russ (Rish Shah, who recently featured in Disney’s Ms. Marvel) took valuable time away that could have been better spent. One unfulfilled string was the unexplored relationship between Eleanor and Gabbi (Talia Ryder from Never Rarely Sometimes Always)which could have been something special. The lack of screen time for someone as talented as Ryder was disappointing.
There is near-perfect sync between all departments giving us an end product worth remembering and maybe even rewatching. Even if Do Revenge did not have that Shyamalan twist, the story would have needed no saving. It would have still sailed through as a bitter-sweet saga between two formidable friends and foes. Camilla Mendez and Maya Hawke lead the pack with genuine turns, understanding their characters quite well.
Barring the odd slip up into mediocrity, Do Revenge provides an intelligent modern twist to Hitchcock’s age-old classic idea of two strangers meeting and setting themselves on a revealing journey, while at the same time making itself a smart contender for popular choice awards.
Verdict - 7/10