“Mean Girls” would’ve been a more recognizable reference in that title. But I am an agent of chaos. That’s why I chose Karan Johar’s seminal classic, “Student of the Year,” starring Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Siddharth Malhotra, Rishi Kapoor, Ronit Roy, and Ram Kapoor. Well, actually, the real reason for referring to “Student of the Year” over “Mean Girls” is that the latter was still rooted in realism, and, apart from Regina George and the Plastics, everyone kind of acted rather normally. Even if you come up with arguments against that, I think we can all agree that at least the school in that film looked like a real place. “Student of the Year” didn’t have any of those attributes because every aspect of it – the characters, the plot, the college, etc. – leaned towards unrealism. And hence, comparing “Do Revenge” with it makes more sense.
Directed and co-written by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, along with co-writer Celeste Ballard, “Do Revenge” follows Drea Torres (Camila Mendes). She’s the “it girl” at Rosehill High School. She’s friends with the most beautiful and popular students there, i.e., Tara (Alisha Boe), Elliot (Jonathan Daviss), Meghan (Paris Berelc), and Montana (Maia Reficco). And her boyfriend is the uber-famous Max (Austin Abrams). But her dreams and her reality come crashing down when Max “allegedly” leaks a risqué video of Drea, thereby ruining her reputation and her future prospects (because she punches Max in the face). At summer camp, a girl named Eleanor (Maya Hawke) befriends her. She tells Drea about her backstory, how she got outed as a lesbian by her ex-crush, Carissa (Ava Capri), and how she’s dreading going to Rosehill and facing her every day. That’s when Drea comes up with the plan to take revenge against Carissa for Eleanor, while Eleanor does the same against Max on Drea’s behalf.
If that sounds anything like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train,” it’s because it is. But the similarities are limited to the concept of the revenge plan. Beyond that, “Do Revenge” is your typical teenage high school drama, populated with cliques, and where everyone’s trying to climb the social ladder or hold the ladder for those who they idolize. The cliques do get a Gen Z update. Now you have the Instagram witches, the horny theater kids, the farm kids, and Rosehill’s royal court, instead of the jocks, the emo kids, the bookworms, etc. The lingo gets a modern update too. But, unlike so many movies and shows trying to cater to the modern generation, Robinson and Ballard don’t go very hard in terms of how teenagers talk or behave on social media. The conversations hinge on the character types, the actors’ dramatic prowess, and most importantly, on how naturally it flows.
That’s one of the biggest reasons why “Do Revenge” works as well as it does. Robinson neither takes the movie too seriously nor does she break the characters into a song-and-dance sequence, which serves as a metaphor for their rivalry. So, on the one hand, you do get a scene where Drea and Eleanor put mushrooms in the soup that everyone is having just to acquire Max’s phone in all the chaos. On the other hand, you get a sensitive and almost tear-jerking scene where Eleanor tells Drea to bring her guard down when she’s with her because she isn’t her enemy. This balance is also echoed by Este Haim and Amanda Yamate’s music; Brian Burgoyne’s cinematography; Lori Ball’s editing; Hillary Gurtler’s production design; Paul Moyle’s art direction; Alana Morshead’s costume design; and the hair and make-up. They bring the superficiality of all these characters to the surface while also treating them as the 17-year-old human beings they are.
As for the performances, the entire cast deserves a huge round of applause for their terrific work. Maya Hawke and Camila Mendes are the focal points of the movie, and the range that they put on display is jaw-dropping. They are amazing in their solo scenes. But when the two are together, it’s straight-up fire. I think that my favorite moment is where Camila queues up Maya’s makeover montage and their reactions to it are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. I absolutely love it. Austin Abrams, as expected, is fantastic. The way he effortlessly oozes a jerk-y aura is stunning. Alisha Boe, Jonathan Daviss, Paris Berelc, and Maia Reficco play off of each other so well, and I would’ve loved to see more of their individual quirks. Rish Shah, fresh off the success of “Ms. Marvel,” is smooth and charismatic as ever. Talia Ryder’s chemistry with Maya is electric. However, the one who delivers a show-stopping performance is Sophia Turner. She must do more comedic roles because she’s magnificent.
With all that said, “Do Revenge” commits the same sins as every recent entry into the teen drama genre. It’s the classic one-two punch where the makers sexualize teen bodies by casting older actors and then push the conservative ideology that high schoolers do drugs. If you are trying to come up with a real-life example, then it’s most probably the exception and not the norm. But the popularity of shows like “Euphoria,” “Riverdale,” “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” “Gossip Girl” reboot, “13 Reasons Why”, and “Elite” will have you believe the exact opposite. “Do Revenge” follows this trend to the T. And the worst part is that all of it is partly questioned or completely glossed over. As a comedy, all the backbiting and scheming seems fine. However, the sexualization is simply gross and needs to stop. Just follow a simple rule: if you can’t make a teen actor do a scene, don’t work your way around it by casting an adult in that role.
In addition to that, “Do Revenge” suffers from the lack of a cathartic end. Given the intensity of it all (which I won’t spoil for you), you’d expect things to conclude with an explosion. However, for some reason, Robinson and Ballard try to make things unnecessarily wholesome. And you’re left there asking, “why?” You just saw these characters accept the fact that they are the most toxic people in the world, and that’s why they are so perfect for each other. So, what’s with the tepidness and subsequent cuteness? Well, I, for one, do not know. But, yes, apart from these two glaring issues, the film is a decent watch. The highs of “Do Revenge” are very high, and the lows are very low. It’s a major win for queer representation. The cast is splendid, especially Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke. I know that it doesn’t set up a sequel, and yet, I’d like to express my desire to see Drea and Eleanor wreak some more revenge-fueled havoc.