2020s

Make Your Own Kind of Music (Even If Nobody Else Sings Along)

Do Revenge makes its own kind of genre music. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s 2022 Netflix film loudly announces various cinematic influences yet betrays the assumption that progressive-minded teenagers with similar worldviews must wave the same flag by default. Do Revenge places special importance on its structural and aesthetic design, allowing viewers to engage with pop culture nostalgia that ultimately functions as a slight narrative misdirect.

Camila Mendes headlines Do Revenge as Drea, an egocentric student at Florida’s Rosehill Country Day prep school who dreams of graduating from Yale University and Harvard Law School. When her ex-boyfriend, Max (Austin Abrams), seemingly leaks an explicit video, she plots against several of her perceived enemies. First, she recruits a lesbian social outcast (Maya Hawke as Eleanor) who seeks revenge against a Rosehill student that outed her years prior. Next, Eleanor transfers to Rosehill and goes undercover as a stylish and friendly senior, when it fact she’s a punk rock social outlier with a secret to protect. Through clever dialogue and sharp visual framing, Robinson and co-writer Celeste Ballard address the nuances of social politics amongst teenagers.

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Many Do Revenge reviews cite Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) as a key influence, but a subtle inspiration seems to be the popular Netflix series Sex Education, evidenced by the film’s visual design during Rosehill-based segments. Plus, an orchestral cover of OMC’s 1996 hit “How Bizarre” aligns with another popular Netflix series, Bridgerton. (Now that’s what I call brand synergy.) Furthermore, Do Revenge musically aligns itself with the 1999 sex comedy classic American Pie through the use of Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta.” The 90s-heavy soundtrack contrasts with Drea’s right-now mindset while complementing Eleanor’s reality-bites mentality, which at once adds more narrative depth while thematically linking Hawke’s character to 90s pop culture. (The actress’ parents, Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, are [90s] movie icons).

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Do Revenge immediately feels like a modern Netflix classic. An opening party scene introduces not just Mendes and Abrams, but also several stars-in-the-making, including Maia Reficco, Paris Berelc, Rachel Matthews and Jonathan Daviss. Each supporting player receives a moment to shine, and an A+ cameo reinforces the classic appeal. It’s all about first-act structure. Robinson and Ballard steadily provide big movie moments and wisely incorporate Olivia Rodrigo’s “Brutal” during the opening credits for some extra pop culture appeal. Importantly, too, the amount of young talent takes pressure off Mendes as the immediately-unlikable Drea. The actress is the film’s grounding force, as her character is less despicable than Abrams’ Max and gets established as a victim through a first act sex tape leak.

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Like Sex Education‘s protagonists, Drea muses about the outside world but seems trapped in her curated web. Visually, this dynamic emerges through the character’s stylish outfits and Robinson’s motion shots that position Mendes’ character as a lonesome figure. She’s a Mean Girl who probably hasn’t seen Mean Girls; however, she’s quite familiar with Meredith Brooks’ 90s anthem “Bitch.” Drea’s naïveté makes her vulnerable, a narrative wrinkle that supports the film’s heart and soul — the romantic relationship between Eleanor and Max’s sister, Gabbi (Talia Ryder, another future A-list star).

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Ryder and Hawke are perhaps two of the industry’s most fascinating young actresses. In Do Revenge, they carry a subplot that could be a feature film all its own. Ryder — who recently headlined the 2022 Netflix film Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between — conveys a sense of tenderness throughout the film as Gabbi closely observes her fellow students and makes thoughtful statements about their behavior. (Interestingly, Ryder bears a resemblance to actress Winona Ryder — no relation — who starred alongside Hawke’s father in the 1994 film Reality Bites.) Gabbi adores Eleanor but doesn’t let her off the hook for shapeshifting and backing away from certain beliefs. A second-half revelation complicates the relationship, and thus gives Hawke more opportunities to explore her character, a young woman who is simply trying to find happiness like Drea.

Do Revenge is a nasty Netflix film, and it could’ve been even nastier. A late-movie twist may seem clunky to some viewers, even if it vibes with the realities faced by modern teenagers. Do Revenge may not appeal to 40-somethings who grew up with Reality Bites or American Pie, but the character dynamics will indeed resonate with younger moviegoers who care more about individualism and transparency than reductive identity politics.

Do Revenge released September 16 on Netflix.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.

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