Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s delicious and devious “Do Revenge” takes place firmly in the larger-than-life high schools of movies, cleverly established here by its grossly-rich prep school and their uniforms of light pink, mint green, and purple. Every party scene is a shiny extravaganza with a dress code, looking more like junior “The Wolf of Wall Street” than what you probably experienced. It’s all cosplaying the lavishness and lasciviousness of being an adult, which sets the stage for its wilder drama of manipulation, a year-long bully scheme hellbent on humiliation. The stakes may not hold the movie as tightly together for its two-hour run-time, but “Do Revenge” can be cutting in its own way thanks to its crafty plotting and game performances.
The plan comes to be between two unlikely friends at the posh Thornhill private school in Florida. Drea (Camila Mendes of “Riverdale”) has just been dethroned from a certain spot of social hierarchy by her gross ex Max (Austin Butler of “Euphoria”), who may or may not have leaked a private sexual Snapchat she sent him last summer. Falling from such grace, but with a gift for getting people in trouble in public, Drea cracks a plan with a girl who is new to a school named Eleanor (Maya Hawke of “Stranger Things”). Eleanor will go undercover into Drea’s former circle of friends, changing her entire look—no more backward cap and baggy Beastie Boys t-shirt. This inspires one of the script’s numerous sharp exchanges, which answers self-awareness with indulgence: “A makeover? Sounds problematic.” “It is, but it’s so fun!”
In return for this infiltration, Drea will help take down a new classmate named Carissa (Ava Capri), who Eleanor actually knows from years ago—as Eleanor tells it, Carissa humiliated Eleanor after Eleanor kissed her and came out to her, leading to massive trauma and a deeper need to settle the score. “Teenage girls are psychopaths,” Eleanor later says, numerous moves later into the game that gets some people exposed, expelled, and fighting for their lives in the social hellscape that is this high school. All the while, Drea and Eleanor start to lose who they truly are in the process, one of many ways “Do Revenge” takes after previous war stories like “Mean Girls.”
Kaytin Robinson previously co-wrote “Thor: Love and Thunder,” and that sense of world-building through some elevated reality comes into place in “Do Revenge,” along with jokes about how nutty high-schoolers can be. As director here, she has fun with the over-the-top aspects, the ritzy campus lounges that look like a billionaire’s summer home, while also leaning into the debaucherous freedom of characters who never mention homework but are obsessed with their Ivy League futures. This may not be exactly like anyone’s experience—or dear God, we hope not—but there’s an escapism to it that’s comforting. It’s like “Euphoria,” but not as bleak, even though the machinations and proverbial blood-spills are just about the same.
Kaytin Robinson and co-writer Celeste Ballard have concocted an elaborate game of control here, with twisty power moves and twisted motivations. (In the story’s self-awareness, Eleanor is shown reading Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train and Les Lesions Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.) But there are so many steps—and backstabbings—to be had that the movie’s pacing can run counter to its poppy pep (the latter made possible by its extensive soundtrack, with Robyn, Billie Eilish, Harvey Danger, and much more). And the intrigue behind wild motivation at hand, to get revenge, which we know is more about a high than any sort of permanent healing, starts to feel too convoluted. The movie itself gets so wrapped up in this battle of status that it’s easy to lose momentum—what’s the worst product that could really happen from this scheme, to not be popular anymore?
But if the pacing can be a problem, causing the formation of its characters to be a little slow, the performances themselves often give the viewer plenty to savor. “Do Revenge” has wicked turns from Mendes, Hawke, and Butler, through developments best not given away. But hopefully, this film will get them work in more psychological fare, as they clearly seem to relish it. Many of the inspired actors in Kaytin Robinson’s story get surprising moments to show their individual range, which comes with a certain wisdom. Mendes, Hawke, Butler, and others keep their characters as cunning as they are ruthless, which help makes Kaytin Robinson’s film enough of a standout in the history of lascerating high school comedies. [B]