Do Revenge movie review & film summary (2022)

ytsfreeSeptember 17, 2022

Enter Eleanor (Maya Hawke), a gangly white lesbian in standard-issue Hollywood frump clothing who’s still traumatized by an incident that occurred at summer camp years ago. Eleanor and Drea become unlikely friends, and Drea suggests swapping revenge plots. Drea’s involves giving Eleanor a makeover to transform her into a sexy oddball newcomer, grab Max’s attention, and draw her into his inner circle, where she can gain the trust and pick the brains of all the people who were complicit in Drea’s downfall. It’s absurdly elaborate even by the standards of high school movies. It’s as if a cross-dressing Shakespeare comedy had been outfitted with elements from “Clueless,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” “Election,” “Rushmore,” and “Cruel Intentions.” (Sarah Michelle Gellar, star of “Cruel Intentions” as well as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” has a small role as the headmistress of Rosehill, who advises Drea to channel her anger rather than explode in rage, as she did while accusing Max of leaking the video.) 

The screenplay mines a few of the same thematic elements as Robinson’s MTV series “Sweet/Vicious,” about a pair of college students who plot vigilante retribution against sexual assailants; but the candy-store visuals overseen by costume designer Alana Morshead and production designer Hillary Gurtler orient the story as a social satire with a splash of compassion. People do terrible things to each other in this movie, but at least a few of them have the decency to feel bad about it. 

“Do Revenge” doesn’t bear any more relationship to actual high school than the films that its makers love so much. There are so few adults around that when a relative, teacher or administrator shows up to push the story along, it feels like a disruption of normalcy. Cinematographer Brian Burgoyne and editor Lori Ball conspire with the director to keep the movie constantly winding its way forward while allowing for stylish grace notes, such as an Andersonian perfectly-symmetrical establishing shot or a voluptuous needle-drop that uses most—and in at least one case, all—of a song. (The no-misses soundtrack mixes Billie Eilish, Alessia Cara, Tony K, Maude Latour, the Jonas Brothers Band, and Taylor Swift.) Half of the cast is well into its twenties (and a few appear older), and there are innumerable costumes changes unveiling outfits of royal finery. Kudos to Robinson and cowriter Celeste Ballard for leaning into the fantasy even as they footnote it. The lavishly produced, over-plotted high school vipers flick is as well-established a sub-genre as the Spaghetti Western. That means there are certain aspect that every one of them must contain or risk alienating the audience, such as a makeover montage; a theatrically styled soul-baring monologue about trauma; and a series of heel-turns and face-turns that keep the audience on its toes.

It’s not sporting to say much more about that last thing. Suffice to say that the characters’ emotions keep threatening to derail the goals they set for themselves, whether they’re healthy or unhealthy, and that the many frank discussions of deception, impersonation, and performance are text as well as subtext. Drea and Eleanor are the best of friends until suddenly they aren’t. Our opinion of Max remains in flux until the final act. There’s more to Eleanor than we initially assume; whatever you’re predicting in your head as you read this is not quite what the movie gives you. (Hawke, who’s got her mother Uma Thurman’s smoky-wounded voice and her father’s laid-back know-it-all charm, plays every beat just right.) 

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