Much has been written about how Netflix has cornered the teen market, flooding the streaming world with extremely popular offerings like THE KISSING BOOTH, THE HALF OF IT, and however many TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE movies there are at the moment. Their latest film, the (deliberately) awkwardly titled DO REVENGE, is set to continue that trend. It’s colorful, energetic, and— with writer/producer/director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson at the helm— just smart enough, and with enough genuinely surprising plot twists, to make a lasting impression. Simply put, it’s fun. And it’s not all laugh-out-loud moments and one-liners, either; the dialogue features quite a few truly perceptive insights of the kind not normally found in “regular” teen fair.
It’s not perfect, though. For one, the movie seems to turn into a completely different one at least three times within its first 15 minutes, leaving the audience to scratch its head and wonder: Is this a dark comedy? Is this a thriller? Is this a rowdy teen romp? And who the hell am I supposed to be rooting for, anyway? Happily, the film does eventually coalesce into a mildly enjoyable experience… only to turn into yet another movie in its final moments. (But by this time, you probably won’t mind the stylistic jumps. Much.)
Given the general messiness of the storytelling, especially in DO REVENGE’s first act, it’s really the cast that does most of the heavy lifting here: Camila Mendes, who plays the self-absorbed Drea, is particularly effective, and seems poised to finally break out as more than just “that girl from Riverdale.” In the same vein, Maya Hawke (as the easygoing and likable Eleanor) is well on her way to not being constantly referred to as “the daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman.” (Alternating between heavy drama and wry, throwaway comedy is not easy; but both Mendes and Hawke are clearly up to the task.) Except for Austin Abrams, who is woefully miscast as the supposedly charismatic heartthrob Max, everyone on the call sheet shines: Talia Ryder (as Gabbi), Alisha Boe (as Tara), and Sarah Michelle Gellar (as the Headmaster) all do a lot with the small roles they’ve been given; and Sophie Turner (as Erica) takes an extended cameo and turns it into one of the funniest moments of the film. (Who knew Sansa Stark could be so hilarious?)
To describe the plot would be to rob the film of its many pleasures. Just suffice it to say that it takes the premise of the 1951 Hitchcock classic STRANGERS ON A TRAIN— two strangers on a train (duh) make a plan to murder each other’s enemies— and adds to it a modern teen focus. And when I say, “modern,” I mean, “from the 90’s.” Because while the story is set in the present day, with the triumphs and pitfalls of social media front and center throughout, DO REVENGE employs so many elements from classic 90’s teen comedies that it almost plays like a Greatest Hits Compilation: There’s the scene near the beginning where a new student is oriented about the various school cliques (as in CLUELESS); the romantic sequence in which two people drenched in paint kiss for the very first time (as in 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU); the plot point where a protagonist has to infiltrate the most popular gang in school (as in MEAN GIRLS); and, of course, the trope where all teenagers are played by actors who are clearly in their late 20’s (as in… uh… all of them).
All in all, DO REVENGE is a flawed but enjoyable film. No need to rush out and see it (or, more accurately, stay home and see it), but you’ll probably have a reasonably good time if you do.
5 crowns: a must-see
4 crowns: excellent
3 crowns: good but not great
2 crowns: just about watchable
1 crown: avoid at all costs