Do Revenge, director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s new Netflix comedy co-written with Celeste Ballard, stars Maya Hawke and Camila Mendes in a mish-mashed satire of iconic 90s teen movies like Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That, Cruel Intentions, Heathers — you get it. The greatest hits, basically. Throughout the movie, there are visual and verbal nods to all of these, nostalgia and more modern touches colliding against a brightly colored Miami prep school backdrop for a kaleidoscopic effect. The needledrops whiplash between throwback hits from Hole to newer fare like Olivia Rodrigo. For the most part, Do Revenge’s collagework provides a fun, sometimes deliciously unsettling, anachronistic and immersive world. But the film neglects to crib what turns out to be a very crucial detail from all those greatest hits: the runtime.
Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Cruel Intentions all have the exact same runtime: one hour and thirty-seven minutes. The other films referenced in Do Revenge aren’t much longer than that. But Do Revenge is an hour and fifty-eight minutes, and those extra twenty minutes end up seeming significant, the film really lagging in its final act in a way that ultimately works against its otherwise very captivating mid-movie twist.
In a Strangers On A Train flourish, Do Revenge hinges on two teen girls who are strangers to each other enacting each other’s revenge. Mendes’ Drea recently had her video sexts leaked by her boyfriend Max (Austin Abrams). Hawke’s Eleanor, a transfer student to Drea’s posh Miami prep school, wants to punish the girl who bullied her at summer camp when she was 13. According to Eleanor, said bully spread a rumor that she was a predatory lesbian. Eleanor’s queer, but she’s not a creep, and she wants to bring down the girl who upended her reputation. Eleanor and Drea hatch a plan to bring down each other’s enemies, becoming friends and then something more complicated than friends along the way.
When Eleanor arrives on campus, her eventual love interest Gabbi (Talia Ryder) gives her a tour of the cliques, one of several direct homages to the oeuvre of teen movies the film reveres and pokes fun at. At times, that simultaneous mockery and emulation of these tropes and devices really works. There’s significant appreciation for the deranged artform of these movies that often eschewed logic in favor of over-the-top entertainment. Merely making fun of these films wouldn’t be fun or even all that interesting. They were ridiculous, and Do Revenge recreates that ridiculousness.
Drea, for example, is the resident “poor” kid, a scholarship student whose mother — who we never meet, because of course parents are always absent in these kinds of films — is a nurse working night shifts. Drea works at the tennis camp instead of attending it (gasp!!!!). But she also wears head-to-toe high-fashion fits, purchased from thrift stores second-hand, as if that would make the clothes any semblance of affordable for a supposedly poor kid. But that lack of realism on the verge of surrealism throughout Do Revenge is, again, a spot-on evocation of these 90s movies that have stood the test of time not for being accurate depictions of high school life but for holding up a fun-house mirror to high school life.
There’s a self-awareness to the way Do Revenge approaches this, and it tips into satire with some of its self-referential moments, like when one character wonders why the hell she did an outfit change immediately after hitting someone with her car. Sarah Michelle Gellar delivers a movie-stealing cameo as the prep school’s hot, mean principal and seems very aware of exactly the kind of movie she’s in. My personal favorite moment from the film is this runner of Eleanor and Drea saying what they wish SMG’s character would do to them:
Eleanor: I want her to hit me with her Tesla and then reverse back over me.
Drea: I want her to stuff me like a taxidermy doll and then mount me on her wall like a prize.
Eleanor: I want her to hide my body in the woods and then start the search party trying to find me.
Mendes and Hawke are indeed having fun with these roles, Mendes well seasoned in the art of making boldly drawn characters and absurd plotting still feel emotionally resonant and real-ish thanks to experience from many seasons of Riverdale. Hawke might just narrowly edge her out as the Do Revenge MVP though, that mid-movie twist hinging on Eleanor and allowing Hawke to give a performance to remember. I won’t say too much about it, because damn I really did love this twist, but it works even if you do see it coming. Eleanor is an instant queer chaos icon, and Do Revenge is delightfully twisted, bitey and mordant under all the brightly colored, patterned fashion worn by its characters.
Do Revenge does largely avoid seeming like just a cobbled-together collage of montages. It has its own specific visual world and invents its own chaos, Eleanor and Drea’s partnership strange and sinister. It’s not just recreating scenes of the past, instead putting its own spins on them — for the most part. Some, like the 10 Things I Hate About You paint scene, play a little too close to the original and end up feeling like nostalgic filler-fluff. And sometimes, Do Revenge gets lost in its own chaos. I found myself sometimes longing for a more established point of view for the film, a stronger commitment to the absurdity of it all. It feels weird to wish a ridiculous movie were more ridiculous, but Do Revenge is indeed at its finest when it makes the least sense.
And truly, it is too long! Kaytin Robinson, by the way, also wrote and directed Someone Great, which I also had some pacing issues with. Just a tad fewer nostalgic montages and a few more inventions of its own could have perhaps propelled Do Revenge into more lasting territory, but I don’t think it’s going to come close to having the same rewatchability factor as its predecessors. Its soundtrack may be no-skips, but there are some scenes that drag out way too long or could have been cut altogether. The movie offers a terrific playground for Mendes and Hawke to mess around in as these gleefully flawed, cartoonish and yet ultimately dimensional characters. And this feels like the kind of high-style, low-stakes satirical high school comedy that simply doesn’t get made anymore, but you know what else Hollywood seems to have forgotten about that needs to come back? The 90ish-minute movie runtime.