Despite what one might think, it is actually possible (though difficult) to make a teen comedy movie that’s funny, deep, and palatable for all age groups. The best example of this would be the now classic film “Mean Girls.” The film’s almost two decades old, but it stays relevant because it balances great performances, smart writing, and solid production that explores the themes of social hierarchy, adolescence, and friendship in surprising depth. More importantly, it’s funny and entertaining, daring to make unflattering observations of people and be politically incorrect.
It’s painfully obvious that the creators of the new teen comedy “Do Revenge” are hoping to reproduce the success of “Mean Girls.” Unfortunately, it fails on nearly every measure. True, it follows the formula of girls in high school backstabbing one another while trying to fit in with the cool crowd, but the characters are all flat and annoying, the plot and setting are utterly unrealistic and inconsistent, and the performances and writing are amateur. To top it off, in typical 2022 fashion, the movie tries to compensate for these deficiencies through predictable woke signaling.
The story stays faithful to the tropes of its genre. The main protagonist Drea (Camila Mendez) partners with social misfit Eleanor (Maya Hawke) to get revenge on their respective enemies who start rumors about them. There are some side plots involving their love interests, but none of it offers anything meaningful about the characters or their world.
Beyond their quest to be on top and get their revenge, there’s nothing much to Drea and Eleanor. Their budding friendship feels forced, and neither really grows over the course of the film. What’s remarkable is how casually immoral everyone is. No one gives a second thought to their duplicity or hedonism, nor is there any discernible goal or motivation in the characters beyond their vanity. It’s not obvious how Max is the antagonist when he plays by the same few rules as everyone else. He’s a toxic male, and the audience is supposed to root for the two girls trying to take him down.
Unsurprisingly, very little about the plot is believable or consistent. Drea and Eleanor alternate between immature teenagers whining about their grievances to masterful plotters putting together elaborate schemes of sabotage. The characters around them are all quite obliging, leaving innumerable opportunities for them to carry out their plan. There’s a twist at the end intended to shock the audience, but the buildup is minimal and the story’s resolution is essentially unaffected.
All this plays out in the most glamorized prep school imaginable that is entirely devoid of actual adults, except the headmaster (played by a very un-headmasterly Sarah Michelle Gellar) who makes a few cameos. The kids never attend class and spend most of their time lolling about on fountains and strolling through a verdant luxurious campus that puts the fanciest country clubs to shame. Little details like parents and finances are mentioned, but have no bearing on reality, as the kids strut through the scenes in beautiful pastel uniforms. Even the most privileged celebrity would struggle to relate to them, let alone actual adolescents in high school.
This escapism could be forgiven with noteworthy performances and good dialogue, but these elements are also lackluster. The handful of laughable moments come from Max championing the interests of “people who identify as women” along with his hype man Elliot who keeps the messaging upbeat despite the many setbacks. Outside of this, the “wit” of Drea and Eleanor is supposed to come out in their conversations and voiceovers, but all of it is contrived. It also doesn’t help that every actor humorlessly plays to a type, eschewing any possible depth or nuance.
For all this though, the film has received more than a few positive reviews from movie critics. The only likely explanation for such acclaim is the movie’s diverse and representative cast and its ham-fisted critique of the “patriarchy.” True, the movie is generally mediocre, but Drea is a person of color who’s poor, her friend Tara is black, her love interest is a South Asian metrosexual with turquoise hair, Eleanor is gay, and the antagonist Max is an irredeemable misogynist pig who gets his comeuppance. This alone, so the thinking goes, should make these characters and their story interesting, but it doesn’t. Nor does it excuse the vanity, shallowness, and outright cruelty of the main characters. Although they engage in sociopathic behavior, it’s somehow OK because of their sex, race, and socioeconomic status.
For that reason, there’s nothing a young person — that is, the target audience — will learn from this movie, nor are there any role models to look up to. They’re just bad people doing bad things, but looking unrealistically good while doing it. Of course, if anyone points this out, they risk looking like a curmudgeonly bigot.
In the end, “Do Revenge” is a lousy film with nothing to say about teenagers and the culture they inhabit. It’s derivative and unoriginal, hoping against hope that wokeness and teen movie nostalgia will save it. But it doesn’t. Instead, it should’ve followed the winning formula of “Mean Girls” and every good comedy: Just be funny, and the rest will follow.