We can do better for teen movies than “Do Revenge”

Written By Rachel Ross, Co Features/A&E Editor

There were two factors that enticed me to watch Netflix’s new film, “Do Revenge,” released on the platform on September 16: the first was the lead actresses, Maya Hawke and Camila Mendes. I like Maya Hawke a lot; I think she’s proven to be an excellent addition to the “Stranger Things” cast, especially in the most recent season. I can’t exactly sing praises for Camila Mendes in the same way; the only thing I’ve ever seen her in is “Riverdale,” which doesn’t really paint any of its actors in a particularly impressive light. However, I was interested in seeing her in something else, if for no other reason than to shed some light on how much of “Riverdale” is actually the writer’s faults, and how much is the actors. 

The other factor was a Buzzfeed quiz I came across, which used a screengrab from the film as its thumbnail: “Teen Comedies Are Officially Back, So Let’s Decide Which Ones Deserve Icon Status.” I tend to be touchy on the subject of “teen movies;” I’m a gigantic fan of John Hughes and his teen films (“The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “16 Candles,” etc.). They’re very close to my heart; I credit them with inspiring me to want to be a screenwriter. Therefore, I tend to get defensive whenever something tries to scoot in and insert itself among those ranks, without deserving it that is. 

As it turns out, “Do Revenge” does not deserve it, and if this is the future of the “teen movie,” we’re worse off than I thought. 

The plot of the film mainly follows Mendes’ character, Drea, as her high school social life falls apart, suspectedly at the hands of her conniving boyfriend, Max. Drea is outcast, which is when she is approached by Eleanor (Hawke), a new student who sympathizes with her situation; Eleanor tells Drea that she was publicly humiliated by a student at the school whom she used to go to camp with. From there, it devolves into a “Throw Mama from the Train” meets “Wild Things” situation: the girls make a plan to “do each other’s revenge;” naturally, it doesn’t end up being as easy as all that, and chaos ensues. 

I don’t think it’s the worst concept in the world, but I don’t know how much that really says when its base is recycled from other things. I think the idea to apply this story in this environment is a smart one, and might work well under different circumstances, but I found this execution to be too concerned with being dramatic and pushing this overblown, oversaturated idea of Gen Z to be successful. It thinks that it’s above tropes and being “fake woke” by acknowledging both concepts, except it’s very much not, as it trips into the pitfalls of both over and over again. It also loves to make pop culture references to better properties in an attempt to equate itself with those things; now I love pop culture references, but I completely acknowledge there’s a fine line between a good, commentary enhancing reference and inserting a property name so people in the audience will go, “Hey, I know that!” Using a fuzzy pink pen like in “Clueless” is not doing anything other than frantically yelling, “Hey! You know this! It’s like that other movie! Aren’t we just like that movie?!” “Clueless” uses the pen to accentuate Cher’s immaturity and failure to take anything seriously in a funny way; “Do Revenge” does it to be like “Clueless.” 

The worst and most stomach churning of these offenses was when Glenn Close’s psychotic performance in “Fatal Attraction” was described as “Glennergy.” I audibly groaned when I heard this. 

The story’s twist wasn’t terrible, and I do appreciate that they tried to do something different with it, however, it’s not like it was on “Fight Club” levels or anything. First of all, I suspected it at one point before it was actually revealed, and when it was revealed, it felt rushed and messily explained. It also severely damaged my understanding of the character involved and their arc, to the point that their resolution felt undeserved. I didn’t know what was the truth anymore of this character’s moral compass; I didn’t know how much of what I’d seen throughout the ensuing movie was real or false. And I do not believe they deserved forgiveness after the lengths they went to; that’s not to say Camilla Mendes’ character did either, but even more so for this one. 

Camilia Mendes’ performance ended up being slightly better than I would say her “Riverdale” one is, which I’m not sure if I can attribute to her as an actress, or slightly better writing. Honestly, it feels like practically the same character, from the two seasons of “Riverdale” I’ve unfortunately seen: she’s a clean cut, fiery preppy. She exudes a commendable level of confidence in both characters, but sometimes manages to lean too far into “girl-boss” mode that it ends up coming across as, for lack of a better word, cringy. This definitely occurs throughout the film, although I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as in “Riverdale;” however, not as bad is still bad. She just goes too far sometimes for my taste; if she toned it down a little bit, I think her character would be a lot more digestible, relatable, and worthy of empathy. 

They did the same thing with Maya Hawke; this isn’t a new character, it’s just her character from “Stranger Things” changed ever so slightly to fit this movie’s circumstances. For that reason, I did find her performance to be somewhat disappointing, especially when compared to her much more impressive performance in “Stranger Things.” The whole thing feels very typecasted; it didn’t feel like, “We want Camila and Maya because we think they’re good actresses,” it felt like “We want Veronica and Robin because their properties have attracted a lot of attention, so let’s just take that and put it in our thing.” 

I will say though that Mendes and Hawke felt like they had a good chemistry; by the end, it did genuinely feel as though they had undergone some kind of journey together. They played off of each other well. 

The one area that I will give genuine praise to this film for is the costumes; I think the costume department did a good job adding to and fleshing out the environment. The school uniforms with the bright colors, berets, and little cape things, whatever you want to call those, create a subtle sense of playfulness, while establishing the uniformity and preppiness of the environment. The party and everyday clothes take clear influence from things like “Clueless,” but with a good blend of modern couture; it is clear they weren’t using the 90s style as a crutch, but rather an actual homage, not just a recognizable rip off. The majority of outfits were really stylized and over the top; they were definitely my favorite part of the movie, as they were the most successful indication of what they were actual going for but missed the mark on; it seems as though they wanted to do a playful spoof that also acted as a relatable young adult film, but in that, they fell victim to the very tropes and cliches they thought they were above. 

Really, at the end of the day, this is a pretty harmless movie overall. Did I enjoy it? Not really. Would I watch it again? Probably not. But it’s not like its existence is hurting anyone or causing harm. I don’t think it measures up to the teen movies of the 80s or 90s by any means. Some of the most successful movies under those umbrellas have such timeless qualities about them; it doesn’t matter how many years go by, in a lot of cases, you can still relate to their messages and the experiences they capture. I don’t really see anyone looking back on “Do Revenge” the same way they do “The Breakfast Club” in thirty years. Gen Z deserves good teen movies with those timeless qualities, and this is not one of them. Just because you set something in a high school with “teens” doesn’t make it a relatable teen movie. “Do Revenge” doesn’t really seem to get that; instead, it’s as shallow as the characters it scrutinizes.