Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s first Netflix film, Someone Great, was so inspiring that Taylor Swift wrote an entire song about it. To keep the Swift connections going, Speak Now’s “Better Than Revenge” feels like the obvious Do Revenge counterpart. Like Swift’s song, Robinson’s sophomore feature offers a layered crescendo of anger, betrayal and calculation, culminating in a storyline that is a touch problematic, but remains unflinchingly entertaining.
Directed by Robinson and co-written by Celeste Ballard, Do Revenge stars Camila Mendes as it-girl Drea, outcast from her peers after a private video is leaked to the entire school by her faux-feminist ex-boyfriend. Enter Maya Hawke’s Eleanor, a newcomer at their prestigious private school, who was made a social pariah by a girl who claimed she tried to hold her down and kiss her, turning her into a walking predatory lesbian stereotype. The two hatch a plan to take down those that hurt them and, as the title might suggest, do each other’s revenge.
This film, most importantly, is a pastel-painted, glittery good time. The dialogue and comedy are anything but dry (unlike Hawke’s unfortunate wig) and harken back to classic ‘90s films like Clueless, but with a Gen Z edge. Following in the footsteps of Bodies Bodies Bodies or Crush, Do Revenge lampoons Gen Z’s unique Internet-age experience, while still remaining sincere enough to not feel like a complete parody. With stunning fashion, a lizard hilariously named “Oscar Winner Olivia Coleman” and a swoon-worthy cameo from one of the pillars of the ‘90s teen scene, Do Revenge’s most absurd elements are the funniest, and its sardonic humor lends itself to its twisted irony—all underscored by its killer soundtrack. This film has been billed as Hitchcockian, and it delivers on the implied twists and turns, even if some are a tad predictable.
Do Revenge deserves its flowers for not being afraid to make its leading ladies unhinged and unlikable, even if its rushed third act makes their journey to redemption seem a bit phoned in. Because of how quickly the film wraps itself up, the happy ending doesn’t feel completely earned, as the leads’ redemption arcs following the third act twist happen in fleeting lines of dialogue between complete 180-twists in characterization; one moment they’re threatening to send someone to jail through blackmail, the next they’re riding off together into the sunset. Despite quickly resolving one storyline in service of another, Do Revenge still offers an adequate conclusion to an ambitious dark comedy. Mendes and Hawke shine, and their chemistry allows their friendship to feel rich and genuine, grounding the film with these two “fucked up soulmates.”
That said, for a movie whose characters are so concerned about their own optics, I spent a lot of time trying to unpack what this film is trying to say, especially about its queer characters. Moments feel tailormade for a queer audience, and not in that familiarly disingenuous, pandering way, but in a way that feels authentic: MUNA’s “Silk Chiffon” plays almost in its entirety during a scene, and Talia Ryder’s Gabbi even has two short nails in her manicure. But as the kind of story that could have easily been done in bad faith and in an effort to confront harmful stereotypes about queer women, Do Revenge sometimes ends up falling headfirst into them. As Eleanor grapples with the predator brand she has so deeply internalized, the film twists those insecurities and fears into something villainous. Even though queer characters should be allowed the same heel turns straight characters cycle through, Do Revenge’s rushed ending makes her turn feel mindbogglingly sudden—and her redemption even more head-scratching.
However, those aforementioned small details go a long way to suggest that the intentions were pure, and that the story simply fell victim to the vagueness that this film’s structure required. If you are a queer woman scorned, this movie is cathartic, whether or not that’s the film’s intention. Because, after so many years of watching the psycho lesbian trope play out (with a guaranteed gruesome ending each time), it’s satisfying to watch a queer woman survive her revenge plot, even if the film briefly distorts her into a cartoonish caricature.
In a way, Do Revenge let me have my cake and eat it too, by delivering a complex queer character that, alongside her partner in crime, does things that are incredibly messed up in the name of revenge, but isn’t completely irredeemable by the end. Eleanor’s revenge fantasy, built up after years of being labeled the predatory “lesbian leper,” was the most satisfying, even when the film tries its best to make it seem unsettling. Similarly, Drea’s revenge fantasy also feels cathartic, as she sticks it to the entitled male manipulator that has always gotten off scot-free, especially as she’s the sole character at this elite school outside of her peers’ tax bracket. An early exchange between Eleanor and Drea sums up their film’s attempt at unpacking various moral complexities: “It feels so problematic.” “It is, but it’s fun!”
Do Revenge is an enjoyable dark comedy, with two revenge storylines satisfying enough to make it the newest addition to the “Good For Her” Cinematic Universe. It’s got enough biting snark to hook viewers from the jump, and enough heart to keep them around until the end. Revenge might be a dish best served cold, but Do Revenge revels in the fiery heat of teenage girlhood, ultimately delivering an angry, messy and cathartic good time.
Director: Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Writer: Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Celeste Ballard
Starring: Camila Mendes, Maya Hawke, Rish Shah, Sophie Turner, Austin Abrams
Release Date: September 16, 2022 (Netflix)
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert;.