The excellent performances and chemistry of Maya Hawke and Camila Mendes help make Netflix’s Do Revenge one of the best teen dark comedies in years.
The teen comedy genre, both on and off Netflix, has been hit or miss since its golden age of the 1980’s to the mid 2000’s. As a young child and teenager, I was able to watch classics like The Breakfast Club (1985), Heathers (1988), Clueless (1995), and my personal favorite: 2004’s Mean Girls. Post 2004, for every decent and sometimes even iconic teen comedy, it seems like we’ve been subjected to hundreds more that are middling or terrible. The last film in this genre to really and truly connect with me post Mean Girls was released in 2017, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. That’s not to say that there haven’t been good additions to the genre prior to 2017 or after, but there wasn’t one that connected with me to the point where I watched it over and over.
I’m beyond thrilled to say that, while it might not be completely perfect, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s Do Revenge, released by Netflix, is the best teen dark comedy I’ve seen in a long time. Whether it’s a dark comedy, a teen comedy, or both might be up for debate, because the film does have quite the adult edge to it (So, sort of more in line with Heathers and 1999’s Jawbreaker). What can’t be disputed is its quality, especially when placed against the competition it faces in both genres.
Do Revenge centers on two girls, Drea Torres (Camila Mendes, of Riverdale) and Eleanor Levetan (Maya Hawke, of Stranger Things). Drea is an it-girl at her high school whose life is upended by the leak of her sex tape, seemingly by her boyfriend and golden boy of the school, Max (Austin Abrams, of Euphoria). On the other hand,Eleanor is an outcast new student who has had her reputation ruined by a rumor started by Carissa (Ava Capri, of Love, Victor) in summer camp when they were 13. After a chance encounter, Drea and Eleanor form an unlikely friendship and team up to get revenge on those who wronged them.
Drea and Eleanor are literal teenage girls, in that they aren’t always likable and at times are so frustrating. However, Maya Hawke and Camila Mendes have such amazing chemistry and make their characters work. Hawke brings a multilayered Eleanor to life, and you can’t help but love her, despite any faults she might have. That’s what makes her feel like a teenager, the fact that she is flawed but also has positive traits. Eleanor is still figuring out who she is (same with Drea) and that’s going to come with bumps in the road!
The plot will likely remind you somewhat of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) but with a modern spin. It reminded me of the 90s teen films I grew up watching, like the previously mentioned Heathers (1988) and Clueless (1995). I’d argue that Director/Co-Writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson has crafted a teen film unlike any other in recent memory. Do Revenge captures the era that we’re in and yet has the potential to be sort of timeless in the way that Clueless has remained ingrained in audience’s minds for generations despite being something that was clearly released in the 90s. Robinson and co-writer Celeste Ballard cleverly take aim at aspects of the current climate, but they don’t overdo it. There are quotable and hilarious lines all over the script, only a few of which are in the official trailer. On top of that: Do Revenge made me feel like I was a teenager again, when I used to watch these types of films at night on a small television in my bedroom. Maybe it was the costumes, maybe it was the story, maybe it was the soundtrack, but I felt almost transported back in time by something in this film.
As far as the story told in Do Revenge, there are moments (funny and otherwise) with the potential to become iconic in terms of teen films. It never hides from being a teen film, making references relevant to teenagers both past and present. While it will feel familiar, there are also twists that will surprise and keep you on your toes. The story is a breeze, with little to no hiccups, and even though some parts, like the similarities to Strangers on a Train may make things feel familiar, it still stands out. Drea and Eleanor are characters that you want to watch, and their story is interesting.
The pairing of two opposites doesn’t always work, but it does here. Eleanor’s the fish out of water thrust into this world of preppy rich kids, complete with her emotional support bearded dragon named after Olivia Colman. Drea’s the preppy girl undergoing a fall from grace. They’re too different to ever associate with each other, which makes them the ideal partners for doing revenge. Their main reason for teaming up is solid enough, and they are interesting enough on their own to make this pairing of opposites click. Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke’s chemistry, which is on display throughout, also plays a hand in why. It seems like the two leads became friends off-screen as their characters did the same on-screen, which doesn’t always happen with co-stars.
Alana Morshead’s costume design makes Do Revenge emerge above teen films of recent memory. Everything pops and even the fictional high school uniforms in the film are made different for each of the main characters (which gives them a bit more realism and personality). The best way I can describe these outfits is that they look good, and look like something rich teenagers would wear, while at the same time being something that no teen in the real world would wear.
If you want needle drops, Do Revenge is the film for you. There are plenty of them littered throughout the narrative and some greatly elevate moments like any solid needle drop should. There’s a good mix of songs from various eras creating a soundtrack collection that likely would be in constant rotation if it were released on CD in the 1990’s. Este Haim and Amanda Yamate team up to create a fascinating score, one that sounds lifted from a mystical fantasy or a thriller at certain points. The score would be out of place in any other film centered on teenagers, but it fits the black comedy nature of Do Revenge. Another plus is that the score and soundtrack blend well together, and sometimes even lead into each other.
However, a major criticism of Do Revenge is the film’s treatment of some of the supporting characters. While Jennifer Kaytin Robinson has assembled the “Young Hollywood Avengers,” as she referred to the cast in an interview with ELLE, and they do live up to that hype in terms of their performances: Some of the characters could’ve used more development. For example: Rish Shah (of Ms. Marvel) portrays Russ, Drea’s love interest, and everything we learn about him comes from their scenes together. Eleanor’s love interest Gabbi (Talia Ryder, of Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between) suffers from the same problem. The story may be the story of Drea and Eleanor but that doesn’t mean that those characters closest to them can’t get a little bit more development. I suppose adding more about the supporting players could have messed with the pacing though, so even though I wish Russ, Gabbi, and others had more character, it’s a bit of a personal nitpick than anything else. In a way, compared to other teen movies, they likely have just enough.
Another small criticism I have is that, while Drea does have those understandable bumps in the road, there are points during the film where I found her to be a little too unlikable. It got to the point where I questioned if I was supposed to root for this person or not. Eleanor kind of has those moments too, in all honesty. I can’t help but think that was sort of intentional on the part of Robinson and Ballard though, so Do Revenge doesn’t lose much from me.
Thanks to Maya Hawke, Camila Mendes, and a variety of other factors like the humorous script, exquisite costumes, and a banging soundtrack and score combination: Netflix’s Do Revenge is tremendous, despite having some small faults. It takes its place without question as one of the best teen dark comedies in recent memory and could wind up being considered iconic in the years to come.
Do Revenge will be released globally on Netflix on September 16, 2022.