If Les Liaisons Dangereuses were set in an American high school, during the Instagram era, they would look like Netflix’s new teen drama Do Revenge. Girl power crushes the patriarchy in this entertaining film, scripted by Celeste Ballard and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, and directed by the latter.
It’s story about a friendship between two marginalised adolescents Drea (Camila Mendes) — the Alpha, fallen it-girl — and Eleanor (Maya Hawke) — Beta, new alt-girl — who team up to go after each other’s bullies. Drea will take down Carissa (Ava Capri) who started a nasty rumour about Eleanor in summer camp when they were thirteen. Whilst Eleanor will deal with destroying the popularity of Max (Austin Abrams), who seemingly leaked out the sex tape with Drea, turning her reputation to ashes. After a clandestine run-in at tennis camp, Drea and Eleanor form an unlikely bond and start a secret revenge mission that leads to many captivating plot twists.
The characters are beautifully written and their dialogue is witty and raw. It doesn’t surprise, considering Jennifer Kaytin Robinson is not new to stories about growing up and female friendships; she made her feature directorial debut in 2018 with Someone Great and in 2016 she was on Variety’s 10 TV Writers to Watch list.
In Do Revenge, teenagers are portrayed in all their ruthlessness. The dynamics of love, friendship, validation and lionisation amongst adolescents are presented with all their nuances. Youth is gender fluid, in terms of style and sentimental choices. Individuality is what distinguishes teenagers nowadays, but the paradox is that this freedom of expression still craves for categories, whether one is queer, fashionista, polyamorous, techie and so on. Even Gen Z, the most progressive generation in history, feels the urge to put people in boxes.Wandering through the school grounds we encounter climate activists, the “Instagram witches,” the “horny theatre kids,” the “farm kids” and the high school royalty. Dark comedy presents these scary protagonists in a lucid and penetrating way, revealing the “wounded soldiers on the battlefield of adolescence.” However, no matter the chosen faction all youngsters in Do Revenge share the “kaleidoscope of trauma and resilience.”
Drea and Eleanor show us the pain of loneliness, but they are able to transform their roles of high school underdog in what they call “Glennergy.” Indeed, Glenn Close’s plotting in Fatal Attraction is nothing compared to the diabolical plans of this canny duo. Their enterprises are a mirror of society’s compulsive “performativity.” Social constructs became a source of inspiration for ingenious mockery, like the “CIS Hetero Men Championing Female Identifying Students League” that gives wave to purplewashing and tokenism. In this way the most represented groups in society have the upper hand — once again — by opportunistically embracing causes that support diversity.
The fun element of this teen movie is the Hitchcockian tension that builds up. It continuously takes audiences by surprise: appearances are deceptive, nothing is as it seems. And along the way things couldn’t get more cringe.
In the film teenagers come across as psychos and sociopaths but the parody brings to light all the frailties of this delicate phase in life, where adolescents may feel lost but that sense of misplacement walks hand in hand with the freedom to chisel their life according to their will. Just like the lyrics of song that closes Do Revenge, by Meredith Brooks and Shelly Peiken: “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover; I’m a child, I’m a mother; I’m a sinner, I’m a saint; I do not feel ashamed; I’m your Hell, I’m your dream; I’m nothing in between; You know you wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Do Revenge brings together the guilty pleasure blockbuster and the cerebral social commentary movie. Social politics prove to be an indomitable force and Robinson brilliantly puts under a magnifying glass a micro and macro analysis of teen-years that become representative of all ages in human existence.
Final Grade: B+