Each decade can sport only one truly great high school film. Sorry, but that’s just the way things are. Think of it as the Queen Bee: a movie that stands out amongst the crowd of its wannabe, lesser subjects for its instantly visible wit, originality, and lasting impact. And there obviously can’t be two queens.
Sure, these stand-outs are often rehashes of their predecessors—there’s nothing new under Alicia Silverstone’s sun. But the secret to becoming the one teen dream film to rule the decade is really quite simple: bite. And that’s something that Netflix’s new comedy Do Revenge, streaming Friday, has in droves.
The reason that most high school comedies fall by the wayside of the collective cultural remembrance is because they’re too afraid to turn the dial up past 11, break the knob off, and throw it in a landfill. If a teen film is going to be uber-successful, the directors, writers, and stars must join together to become one single conduit for channelling the particular malaise of a new generation. Only then can a film become something so ferocious, so merciless, and so fashionable that it can secure the top spot.
The past four decades have all seen their royalty: The ’80s had Heathers; the ’90s had Clueless; the ’00s had Mean Girls; and the ’10s had Easy A. Each one offers a crisp image of its time and all of the woe-is-me, overly dramatic teenage angst swirling around it. That’s a lofty task, and one might think that the current age of chronically online teenagers, who are all more self-aware than ever before, might be a hard decade to skewer.
Do Revenge makes it look as simple as donning a perfectly positioned pastel beret. It cleverly follows the teen movie playbook down to the letter: gif-worthy moments, quotable one-liner snark, and plenty of moodboard-ready outfits. But just when you think you’ve got the film pegged, Do Revenge throws the playbook in a paper shredder and dumps it all over your naive little head before telling you it loves your hair. That kind of lawless fun is exactly what makes Do Revenge the defining teen movie for the 2020s.
High school is hard enough as it is, but even harder when you’re Drea (Riverdale’s Camila Mendes), a scholarship student at a swanky Miami private school. She’s slowly risen in the ranks among her peers after years of dating Max (Austin Abrams), the ultra-woke twink prince of Rosehill High. After a controversial end-of-year bash, Drea’s sex tape is leaked to the entire school, seemingly by Max in a vindictive move she can’t wrap her head around.
Drea takes her summer to reflect, heading off to where all teens in need of a little rage outlet go: a posh tennis camp, where she can spike balls at people’s heads. There, she has a fateful run-in with Eleanor (Stranger Things’ Maya Hawke), a mousy, reserved, incoming transfer to Rosehill. It turns out that Eleanor is also a fellow victim of a calculated, life-destroying rumor started by another student, Carissa (Ava Capri), when they were younger. When Drea and Eleanor return for their senior year hoping that they’ll be able to hold their heads high, they quickly realize that they’re not remotely equipped to rise above the drama.
Together, the girls hatch a plan to “do,” as they call it, each other’s revenge so nothing can be traced back to the other. “Is ‘do revenge’ even, like, correct grammar?” Eleanor asks. But before Drea can answer that, she’s already convinced Eleanor to burn their opponents to the ground with all the ruthlessness of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction—“Glennergy,” as the girls quip.
Of course—because where would we be without them?—this Strangers on a Train-esque plan comes with all of the necessary plot beats, which are no less electrifying the thousandth time you’ve seen them. We get a makeover for Eleanor, the girls falling for someone on the other side of the battle line, and plenty of foils in their scheming. It helps that, when these predictable elements do happen, they’re bolstered by production design so detailed and referential, they’re impossible not to admire.
The set and costume design are pleasantly thoughtful, working in tandem to complement each other in every scene. Loud Miami hues are paired with bright, gaudy skirts and shoulder cutouts, while the more conservative private school halls are filled with extras sporting pastel sweaters and berets. Eleanor and Drea’s outfits are unquestionably Clueless-inspired; comically, the fashions that seemed absurd in the ’90s are now dominating TikTok. The Do Revenge style takeover will be hitting your local high school any moment now.
And we can’t forget the music. Memorable needle drops are essential for any teen comedy (what would Mean Girls be without Samantha Ronson’s “Built This Way,” I ask you!), and Do Revenge has them queued up and ready to make your jaw go slack. Hole followed by Caroline Polachek? I pray my Netflix subscription fee was funneled directly toward making that tracklist a reality. There’s even a delightfully allusive modern cover of “Kids in America”—which iconically opened Clueless’s images of Cher Horowitz shopping Rodeo Drive—scoring the chaos of a plan involving hallucinogenic mushrooms and a very large vat of soup.
When those revenge plots kick into high gear, Mendes and Hawke prove themselves to be formidable co-leads. Their friendship chemistry is perfectly balanced, with neither stomping all over the other to steal scenes (though Hawke does get to deliver a line reading in the first half hour that made me laugh so hard, I nearly passed out). Austin Abrams also understands his deceptively progressive villain perfectly, transforming from Euphoria’s good-boy to the president of Rosehill’s Cis Hetero Men Championing Female-Identifying Students League. His Max carries a camera around, like Brooklyn Beckham when he put out his photography book, and sports dangly earrings and nail polish. In short, he’s pure evil in the form of a teenage boy.
For a copy of a copy of a copy, the film’s script is markedly fresh. It may briefly nod to its inspirations, but Do Revenge makes sure to twist them before the audience has a chance to roll their eyes. The movie assesses the current pretensions of teenagerdom and sends them up in new, cackle-inducingly funny ways for both teens and adults alike. Those laughs are paired with the perfect amount of cutting, pithy digs that genre fans live and die for. Any movie that can make middle schoolers afraid of high school and the late-’20s crowd nostalgic for the cutthroat anxiety of upperclassmanship is a pretty remarkable feat.
There is nothing, nothing like the joy of watching teenagers get revenge. It’s an exhilaration so strong that it has the power to sustain me through many lifetimes. When you’re gone, I’ll still be here, clinging to my DVD box set of all six seasons of the OG Gossip Girl. That’s precisely why Do Revenge is such a pleasant surprise: Just when we think we’ve seen all the nastiness that fictional teenagers are capable of, we’re reminded that immorality, depravity, and malevolence look different for every generation.
Here, then, is our pastel teen dream: Thoroughbreds, just slightly less lethal. Now, it becomes not a question of if Do Revenge will reign supreme, but if any others can even make an argument for the top spot before the decade runs out. Might as well pack it up until 2030, beause these delinquents are going to be hard to beat.