Like a maraschino cherry, blood red and sickly sweet, Netflix’s teen comedy “Do Revenge” combines bubble gum glamour and ‘90s nostalgia with a contemporary feminist lens and compelling plot. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s second directorial feature since her 2019 romantic comedy “Something Great” is a brightly colorful, at times saccharine, coming of age comedy explosion.
In a high school chick-flick-ified parallel of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train,” Drea (Camila Mendes) teams up with Eleanor (Maya Hawke) to exact revenge on each others’ enemies. After scholarship student Drea’s popular, rich-woke ex-boyfriend leaks her sex tape, ruining her social status and lifelong path to Yale, she befriends new girl Eleanor who has an nemesis of her own: a girl from her past who outed her at childhood summer camp.
The movie is thickly coated in references to ‘90s era classics, from “Clueless” to “Mean Girls” to “10 Things I Hate About You.” Eleanor refers to herself as a “disciple of the ‘90s teen movie,” and even the fashion choices — pastel plaid uniform skirts, blocky monochrome sets and metallic bomber jackets — evoke the sassy tartness and vibrant, fun nostalgia of these movies with some modern day upgrades stitched in.
The music is one example of this modernization. From Hayley Kiyoko to Olivia Rodrigo, the movie soundtrack caters to a trendy younger audience. As Eleanor enters a party, Caroline Polachek is the cinematic pop backdrop. At the emotional height of the movie, “Happier Than Ever” by Billie Eilish backs a montage of Drea and Eleanor’s happiest moments together. And Eleanor’s first kiss with her female love interest is accompanied by “Silk Chiffon,” MUNA and Phoebe Bridgers’ beloved queer anthem.
Unabashedly queer, “Do Revenge” evokes an authenticity that is still relatively new for mainstream cinema. Gabbi, played magnificently by newest teen heartthrob Talia Ryder, manspreads on a counter in men’s swim trunks and casually flirts with Eleanor. Eleanor and her ex-girlfriend share an intense moment of eye contact across the schoolyard, both favoring baggy pants over the short uniform skirts. At its very foundation, the movie’s plot is built upon queer rage.
Though not by any means revolutionary, the film does a good job of walking the line of casual, unceremonious representation that doesn’t trivialize the queer experience. As Eleanor blithely but accurately puts it, “Everybody’s fucking gay.”
While it masks itself as a shallow Netflix original chick flick, the movie is filled with profound criticism of modern day social politics. The dialogue is rife with empty buzzwords that lack any actual meaning behind them: At one point, the main male villain Max (Austin Abrams) is praised for starting a club called “The Cis Hetero Men Championing Female Identifying Students League.” In this way, it strays from the ‘90s cult classics. The popular kids in teen movies are no longer outwardly problematic; instead, they hide their bullying behind “wokeness.”
Like all successful satire, “Do Revenge” introduces fresh stereotypes that are recognizable to audiences but not yet worn out by mainstream media. The male villain is a nail polish-wearing, patriarch defying, rich femboy who hides behind his feminine fashion facade to excuse his misogynistic behavior. The innocent caught in the crossfire is a “crunchy granola lesbian” who gets kicked out of school for growing mushrooms in the campus farm’s greenhouse. In a scene nearly identical to the famous lunchroom tour in “Mean Girls,” Eleanor is given a “run-down” of all the high-school cliques, modernized to expand past jocks, preps and nerds and to include Instagram witches, horny theater kids and farm kids.
Similar to “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” the movie is a caricature of modern youth in an over-the-top Netflix Original way that is at times entertainingly accurate — and at others a cringeworthy attempt to capture the ever-changing Gen Z subtext. But unlike the horror-comedy of last summer, “Do Revenge” does not rely solely on its many references to draw audiences in. It contains substance, whimsy and, most importantly, characters who are flawed but ultimately forgivable. While at times the plot becomes slightly messy and convoluted, its sanguine spirit and heartwarming giddiness manage to outshine these shortcomings.
In the end, it’s the film’s ridiculousness that makes it memorable, and its heart that makes it shine. A bearded dragon is named after Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman. Drea is affectionately referred to as “Revenge Mommy.” And, as the credits roll, the two girls clink champagne glasses together on the beach, their revenge complete and their friendship strengthened.