by Paul Deeter
The dream of the 90s is alive in Do Revenge, a coming-of-age feature length unofficial remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Sounds weird? Not when considering the ultra success of 10 Things I Hate About You, which is inspired by classic Shakespeare play The Taming of the Shrew. There's a lot of golden teenage comedy from the 80s to 90s that keep the genre fresh with twisted interpretations of classic stories. And in Jennifer Kaytin Robinson's 2022 release Do Revenge, the feeling of 90s teenage romcoms is laid on thick. From the bubblegum color palate and waaay to expensive wardrobe choices for the kids of the film, this teenage tale is a love letter to a lost but not forgotten era. Behind all the visual pizzazz is an ever-present backing soundtrack of 90s chart-toppers mixed with occasional Grrrlpower! riot rock hits from the 80s as well. What's unfortunately not present here is the bite of highschool revenge flicks like Heathers or more modernly Moxie, which had a similar message to Revenge of female empowerment against casual and not so casual sexism in school. What's also missing is the sense of humor required to keep these features elevated from falling into Disney daytime special territory. Is Do Revenge too tied up in attempting edginess that it forgets to be sincere?
"I can't 'do revenge'... is 'do revenge' even the right grammar?" - Eleanor (Maya Hawke).
Do Revenge is a story about two high-school girls who band together in a retaliation pledge against those that separately wronged them. Maya Hawke plays Eleanor, a young gay character who has been traumatized by an ex who humiliated her and outed her sexuality to the previous school she's left behind. Camila Mendes plays Drea, a rich IT-girl whose life seems to be perfect at her lavish birthday party spent among many adoring guests and her A-list boyfriend Max. Max is Drea's "manic pixie dream boyfriend", a studly and gorgeous.... wait stop, I can't. Austin Abrams plays Max, and if you've seen Euphoria then you can see him playing Ethan, a nerdy reclusive character who falls between the cracks socially. This is a much more appropriate role for him, because Abrams (bless his heart) is not a particularly strong, handsome or charming lead. His status of the most popular guy in high school is hard to believe if not for his wealthy lifestyle and mansion for a home.
I'm going to stop from getting heated on why I think this is the biggest miscasting in the history of teenage misrepresentation. Its although almost easy to forgive given that Abrams actually looks to be around the age of the rest of the students. Richard Roeper accurately notes that …Virtually all of the so-called teens look like they should be getting ready for their 10-year reunion rather than senior year."s Maya Hawke previously played someone of the same age in Stranger Things in a breakout role and Mendes worked the genre in Riverdale. So despite their much older ages in real life, they attract the character role often, making it unfair to critique Robinson entirely for her choice of leads. But man is this overall movie miscast. At least Maya Hawke is entirely committed to the silliness of her placement in it all. Hawke brings a character who stumbles into popularity in the scheme she's hatched with Drea, and her consistent wide eyed reproach of the ridiculousness of the whole plan. She proves there's some fun to be had here.
Max opens a group called Cis Hetero Men Championing Female Identifying Students League which ironically does more damage than good, (if the name wasn't clear enough). Sarah Michelle Gellar plays the headmistress, and plays an appropriately catty antithesis to her past spunkier characters. And some of the humor does stick, but a lot of the jokes here are easy targets and the raunch gives nothing more than the occasional shock gag. And as the plot twists an edge into the film that might elevate it from its vapid existence the humor starts to run dry. Its not until a third act Maya Hawke surprise that the movie does inspire some independence and uniqueness. But at this point, who cares? Apparently most critics favored this film with a Rotten Tomatoes average of 85% from a total of 61 reviews. But I don't buy it myself, and maybe I'm burned out from the genre more than others. I just wish Maya Hawke brought the bite needed earlier in the film to save it. She certainly brings more than the film deserved in the end.