What’s the line between homage and derivative?
Can a movie stand on its own if the primary reason it’s so fun is because it reminds you of other movies you’ve loved?
That’s the question which hangs on Do Revengea Netflix teen movie starring Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke.
Directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (Thor: Love and Thunder) and co-written by her and Celeste Ballard, Do Revenge draws on the many, many teen movies that came before it, most notably from the 1990s.
It’s a movie made by someone who clearly loves the films she grew up with, and that sense of glee of playing in the same sandbox is evident all the way through. It’s as if Robinson is whispering, “Can you believe I get to do this?”. That enthusiasm is infectious and it’s easy to be swept along.
From the casting of Sarah Michelle Gellar as the headmaster to the costume references from Romy and Michele’s High Schoolreunion, Do Revenge is an avalanche or pastiche. It has the tone of the bitier Jawbreaker or the underappreciated Mandy Moore/Jena Malone comedy Saved!mixed with the visual palette of Clueless and the plot mechanism of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.
The story is centered on Drea (Mendes), an impossibly beautiful and impossibly popular student in Miami. She may be from a poor family but she has it made – she’s a top student, dating the most privileged boy in school, and was even featured in a Teen Vogue list.
But that all comes crashing down when a sex tape of her and Max (Austin Abrams) is leaked to the whole school. She knows Max did it but as is often the case when you’re the intersection of economically disadvantaged, a woman and from a cultural minority, Drea is the one who pays the price.
At tennis camp where she’s working for the summer, she meets Eleanor (Hawke), a soon-to-be transfer student with her tale of woe about being forced out of the closet by a school friend named Carissa (Ava Capri).
Drea and Eleanor have a lightbulb moment when they realize they could carry out each other’s revenge schemes – keeps their hands clean and taste that sweet, sweet vengeance.
It’s a simple and elegant plan – and we can thank that mistress of criminal intent, Patricia Highsmith, for it, it’s her book Hitchcock adapted. A high school milieu is also the perfect setting for it – a place of heightened, unchecked emotions and a tendency towards performative cartoon villainy.
Do Revenge‘s story is cheeky and amusing. It largely works to entertain even if it’s uneven – it starts off shaky and almost loses itself completely towards the end before sticking the landing.
There are some inconsistent character choices that don’t resolve but it’s not a deal-breaker – and they stem from a plot twist that is as clumsy as it is delicious.
Robinson waves enough poms-poms that what’s derivative genuinely feels like love. How do you argue with a movie in which there’s a croquet game, a la Heathersor which has a building called Horowitz Hall?
If you love that era of teen movies – and easter eggs pointing to them – as much as Robinson does, Do Revenge can be intoxicatingly fun.
And there’s nothing that encapsulates it as much as its soundtrack. Woven in between its use of contemporary artists such as Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish and Phoebe Bridgers is a setlist of 90s bangers.
Music is a shortcut in evoking a specific time and vibe, but damn if it isn’t effective. You want to immediately draw on the loose, optimistic late 1990s? Blast a little Third Eye Blind or The Cranberries.
Why not be the first movie in years to crank Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” or call back to Cruel Intentions with Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You”? And there’s a specific Cruel Intentions visual reference in driving off in a vintage convertible while the camera pulls into a wide shot.
Do Revenge is undoubtedly a nostalgia punch but pop culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Everything that’s released is in conversation with what came before and if Do Revenge can effectively weaponise the past to boost its creds, then all the power to it. You won’t be bored.
Do Revenge won’t be as iconic as the movies it loves. We probably won’t be talking about it in a decade or two or three like we do 10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless or mean girls but in the moment, there’s a lot of fun to be had.
Do Revenge is streaming on Netflix now