Maya Hawke’s Gay Chaos Makes “Do Revenge” a Twisted Romp

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.


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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 431 articles for us.

19 Comments

  1. the whole plot can basically be narrowed down to “i support women’s rights but more importantly, i support women’s wrongs”.
    you’re right about the pacing issues but i still really enjoyed it. also sophie turner’s cameo was *chef’s kiss*

  2. Agree with you on the pacing issues, there were definitely some scenes that could’ve been cut or shortened. I also found it somewhat unbelievable that Drea didn’t remember [no spoilers]. I mean how can you not remember something like that??

    I still enjoyed it though. I love that characters in teen movies/TV shows now can just *be queer* and it’s not a plot point. I know that still isn’t the reality for too many kids in real life, but seeing it normalized in media geared to teens makes this jaded old lesbian happy.

    • Regarding Drea forgetting, I felt like the film was building to a point about the longevity of the kind of reputational damage the characters are trying to inflict. Yes, it seems big in the moment, but really it’s only going to be a big deal for six months of high school. But it didn’t go anywhere.

    • Her not remembering is the kind of thing I’d 100% believe IRL but when used in a movie feels too convenient. There’s something interesting in the idea, though — how we remember ourselves and our actions the way we want to remember them, blocking out past moments that don’t fit with how we see ourselves now. Drea thinks of herself as a good person but she’s an unreliable narrator. Still, you’d think her memory would have been jogged by the details lol

  3. I completely agree about the 90 minute movie needing a comeback, I’m so tired of them getting longer and longer!! Gimme something I can start watching at 9 and be in bed by 11 please, I’m a tired queer who needs her sleep

  4. Great take, my question before watching a film is always how long is it and if it’s 1h30 that is the golden length, I’m watching it baby! Over 3 hours? Even if I love the premise you couldn’t make me

    I loved the film, it’s visually stunning and funny but agree it’s not quite iconic. I hope they we get some more films in the genre to get there!

  5. Also feel like the palette & rose crest at the school, as well as the scene where they were facing opposite directions in bed (iconic crescent bed reference) might be giving some Utena vibes??

  6. Just watched the film and loved it! I agree it’s not quite up to the standards of past iconic teen comedies of its ilk, but imo it’s the best one released in over a decade. I loved that they were able to make it so appealing to a millennial audience whilst still feeling rooted in the realities of Gen Z culture – I’m sure it’s not an easy feat to make a teen film that will resonate with both generations.

    One thing – I’m surprised you only mention it referencing/being inspired by 90s movies. It is, of course, but I felt like the clearest influence was actually Mean Girls!

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