In the brash comedy, “Do Revenge,” available September 16 on Netflix, Drea (Camila Mendes) and Eleanor (Maya Hawke) are two teenage girls who are concerned with salvaging their social status. Drea has been betrayed by her boyfriend, Max (Austin Abrams), whom she insists leaked a sexy video she sent him. Eleanor, who is a new senior at Rosehill Day School, is still mad about how Clarissa (Ava Capri) behaved when she outed Eleanor back when they were 13. (Eleanor wasn’t upset about being identified a lesbian; it was more that she was branded a leper after Clarissa claimed Eleanor held her down and kissed her, which wasn’t true.)
These two strangers meet — not on a train, but in the school bathroom — and agree to “do revenge.” Eleanor will infiltrate the cool kids and expose Max’s lies, while Drea will cozy up to Clarissa and ruin her life. It’s a perfect plan! What could go wrong?
The film, agilely directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, who cowrote it with Celeste Ballard, is mashing up (or paying homage to) various pop culture films including “Mean Girls” and “Cruel Intentions,” as if jerry-rigged to appeal to a particular demographic. That is not problematic because “Do Revenge” also has its own agenda to chronicle the unlikely friendship that develops between social outcasts Drea and Eleanor as they partner in getting payback.
Of course, each teen has concerns about “trading places” with the other. Eleanor needs lessons on how to act around Max after Drea gives Eleanor the requisite makeover that turns her from wallflower to young woman of mystery. Can Eleanor entrap the “fake, woke, misogynist, [expletive]” without blowing her cover? Meanwhile, Drea participates in the school’s farm project and discovers a dirty little secret Clarissa is growing in the greenhouse.
However, complications develop for both teens in that they find themselves unexpectedly developing love interests that may compromise their plans. Eleanor has a real spark with Gabbi (Talia Ryder), Max’s sister, whom she met before her makeover, and Drea finds herself having feelings for Russ (Rish Shah), a blue-haired, artsy type who may just be the bad boy she did not know she needed. An episode where Russ and Drea ditch school and throw paint balloons at each other to channel their anger at the world is sweet, even if Russ’ character feels underwritten.
“Do Revenge” is less concerned with teen romance and more interested in Eleanor and Drea’s fiendish plotting. But the film does not provide much in the way of tension. When Max catches Eleanor snooping on him, it leads to a bonding moment, not trouble. Likewise, the film has fun when the teens exact some mischief, dosing the school’s dinner or releasing Max’s texts (on Valentine’s Day no less) to the entire student body to expose him.
The film’s best scenes are the more intimate, introspective ones, as when Drea and Eleanor have a heartfelt chat in Drea’s bedroom, and they bond over their anger, hopes, and dreams. (Queer viewers may find a suggestion that Eleanor is attracted to Drea here, an idea that could have been developed further.) But the focus remains on Drea, a student of color and lesser means than her peers, who dreams of getting accepted to Yale. Although she is sacrificing who she is to get what she wants — a nice metaphor for her revenge schemes — she later admits to changing who she is in order to survive. (Something queer viewers can appreciate.)
Eleanor also suffers a similar kind of identity crisis, coming to appreciate being part of the cool kids’ crowd only to have it jeopardize her relationship with Gabbi at a critical moment. But alas, this too, is underdeveloped. The film misses the opportunity for Eleanor to use her attraction to Gabbi to get dirt on Max. This could have tested Eleanor’s priorities for love vs. revenge as well as her friendship with Drea, and her moral compass.
Instead, various twists, betrayals, and double crosses unfold as Drea and Eleanor double down on their dastardly deeds and “Do Revenge” develops a sense of overkill. That said, the film wisely never lets anyone die; only egos and reputations are decimated.
While the film is as superficial as its characters, Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke both look good in the stylish costumes. The costars perform their roles with a knowingness that makes viewers root for them and feel in on the joke. That helps “Do Revenge” gloss over its rough spots, because the film is clumsy for both celebrating and punishing bad behavior. Nevertheless, it is hard not to appreciate Drea and Eleanor singing along to Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” — an anthem for these amoral teens — as they do in one liberating moment.
“Do Revenge” is an imperfect film about ruining others to save oneself.