You know what never goes out of style? High school drama. Social status, cliques, outcasts, loners, crushes, kisses, jealousies, plots, ploys, meanness, ostracization, and, yes, revenge plots, are as timeless as some misguided adult telling teens that high school will be the “best years of their lives.” Do Revenge, Netflix’s latest contribution to this canon, is a sharp-witted, satirical homage to its 1990s predecessors that falters in a few places but still comes out winning, due in no small part to the amazing chemistry of the lead actresses.

Drea (Camila Mendes) will tell you that you know you’ve made it in high school when someone wants to destroy you, and everyone “want[s] a bite” of her. She’s currently queen of the best clique at Rosehill Country Day, which comes with a high price in terms of her soul. We meet her at her lavish and over-the-top party to celebrate that she was included on the Teen Vogue Next Gen list, which will only make her even more beloved and hated by her classmates. And what’s her fatal flaw, one that could derail her superhuman ascension toward the high school status stratosphere and admittance to Yale (of course it’s Yale)? She isn’t rich or privileged. FAUX GASP! Drea has worked and scrabbled and carefully crafted a public personality to assemble this life. She has a scholarship to Rosehill, friends who will throw her parties so extravagant that it would make the ancient Greeks cringe, and (according to malicious rumors) she buys her clothes at thrift stores.

The outside of the massive house with people walking toward it. Balloons with Drea's face on them. And lit up lights that should spell Congrats Drea, but only RATS DREA is showing.
You know I can’t resist some in your face foreshadowing, like this screenshot.
Drea in a shiny see through gold top over a strapless blue dress, looking smug and coniving.
Meet Drea, who is always plotting to stay one step ahead of the haters. Also, there are people in the background whose mouths are agape when they see her. I love this in teen movies and shows. She is actually just another student and I’m pretty sure no one’s jaw drops every time they see her.
Drea's friends cheering her on as she makes her speech.
How come people in movies never get to wear comfy clothes when they hang with their best friends?

But she’ll be damned if she’s going to let anyone find a hole in her carefully constructed armor. When Allegra (Rachel Matthews), one of the Instagram Witches, spreads a rumor at the party that Drea got her outfit from the Salvation Army—why so much hate on thrifting clothing, my friends?—Drea publicly announces that Allegra will be donating her entire wardrobe to a church the next day. And she’ll be doing it on video. Brutal takedown. Wait. Is Drea possibly also a bully? Whatever. She definitely doesn’t have time for that kind of introspection. 

Allegra wearing spider web glasses and a spider web fascinator.
Allegra. Mostly included because her costume is much fun.

If you’ve watched even one teen movie, you know Drea’s fall from power is coming. It arrives, unsurprisingly, in the form of a weasel disguised as a boy. Drea’s smooth-talking, beloved by everyone, walking-embodiment-of-a-red-flag and white privilege boyfriend Max (Austin Abrams) poutingly asks if she can please make him a sex video to keep him company while they’re apart all summer. And Drea does. I have some questions about the verisimilitude of this, because Drea is careful and canny and just finished telling us how she spent “seventeen years meticulously curating the perfect life.” We’re supposed to believe she would just shoot off a sex video to some scrawny rich boy who clearly would only be interested in his own sexual pleasure, and uses an old camera as a fashion accessory? Wait. Is my age showing? Am I overlooking the mind-numbing powers of teenage horniness and hormones? I think I am.

Max, leaning against a column as he makes his late entrance.
His name is pronounced Max, but it’s spelled T-R-A-S-H.
Max walking through a crowd with his left hand on his chest and his eyebrows raised earnestly.
Uh-uh. Never trust a guy who puts his hand on his chest like that while raising his eyebrows all earnestly. It’s bad news.

Anyway, Max does the only thing Max is capable of doing, which is leak the video and pretend he got hacked. It’s the only thing he’s capable of doing because Max is entirely incapable of conceiving that anyone, but especially a lower-income brown woman, could be more successful than him. As Drea says, “It was a classic Icarus story, I flew too close to the sun, so my boyfriend leaked my sex tape.” Drea absolutely doesn’t buy that he was hacked and belts him right in his polished privileged puss. 

Tara and Drea seeing the sex video has been shared.
I wish that Drea could have quashed the whole horror-show of the video leak with and over-abundance of sex-positivity, but that’s asking a lot of anyone, especially a teenage girl who just shared her most intimate self with a boy who then betrayed her trust.
Max looking hurt and confused.
Look at that perfectly practiced face of victimhood. How could she even begin to think he could do such a thing? He’s hurt. He’s aggrieved. He’s guilty as fuck.
Drea punching Max.
I do not condone violence, but I do condone this particular instance of violence.

It’s Drea, of course, who gets in trouble with The Headmaster, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. (Yes, really. Do you need a minute for an existential crisis about the passage of time?) Drea’s not reprimanded for sending the video, but for punching Rosehill’s “Golden Boy” because “her peers have the luxury of operating on impulse.” The only way for her to get ahead, explains Headmaster Buffy, “is to be smarter.” And she has to learn to control her anger and “channel that anger into getting what you want.”

Sarah Michelle Gellar as the Headmaster.
Gasp! Headmaster Buffy!

Whoa. Wait. Hold on. Am I understanding correctly? Is Headmaster Buffy saying that she—a white woman in a position of power—has no means to help Drea when it comes to the changing environment of systemic bias and racism that clearly runs rampant in her school? Classic. And her answer to Drea’s righteous anger about having her most private video publicly leaked is basically that she has to be a model minority? This seems, to put it mildly, problematic. Drea’s friends (Alisha Boe, Paris Berelc, Maia Reficco) also take Max’s side, saying that she’s put them in a really tough spot and that Max would never leak a video like that. “So much for believing women,” deadpans Drea. This, my friends, is so highly realistic that I almost reclassified this movie as docu-horror. 

Burned and spurned, Drea sets her sights on channeling her anger into ice cold revenge. “Peaking in high school is cringe anyway,” she says, which is a very funny line. But even revenge queens need jobs, which is how Drea ends up working all summer as a tennis pro amongst wealthy girls who find her sex video via a girl named Erica Norman (Sophie Turner). When Drea learns she’s the source, she quickly and efficiently gets her sent to rehab for a cocaine problem that Erica doesn’t have. Maybe this wasn’t exactly what Headmaster Buffy meant about channeling her anger? But maybe it was. Who knows. Elite prep schools can get pretty twisted. Drea’s inside source on Erica leaking the leaked video is Eleanor (Maya Hawke, who, yes, is Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman’s daughter. Yes, you are old.) Eleanor shows up seemingly out of nowhere, will be attending Rosehill in the fall, and has her own very deep vendetta to avenge. Where Drea is perfect lip gloss, sleek hair, and put together outfits, Eleanor is backward caps, baggy clothes, and unbrushed, indistinct hair. They’re the perfect odd-couple for what comes next. Also, Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke have extremely good chemistry in this movie and play off each other very well. 

Eleanor telling Drea about who leaked the video while wearinga models suck shirt.
The inauspicious first meeting of Drea and Eleanor.
Drea, dressed in pink and very glossy, next to Eleanor in a backwards cap and very scruffy as they ride in Eleanor's car.
When they realize they both have revenge to do. When I have many questions about Maya Hawke’s hair in many parts of the movie. Were they using subpar wigs? Were they meant to look like subpar wigs?

When school starts again, Drea is forced to confront Max, who is now dating her former best friend Tara (Alisha Boe). Even worse, to the roaring appreciation of the entire school—whose uniforms make them look like they’re part of a cult-lite—he makes himself the victim of the video leak and he forms a club called the Cis-Hetereo Men Championing Female Identifying Students League. “It’s for all men at Rosehill who want to do better,” he tells them. You can imagine the rage which Drea must control. Eleanor happens to casually meet  and have instant sparks with Gabbi (Talia Ryder, who looks worlds at ease here than in Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between ), who takes her on a helpful tour of Rosehill’s cliques. She also has to face Carissa (Ava Capri), who, as Eleanor has previously explained to Drea, ruined her life when at summer camp she not only outed Eleanor to everyone, but also told them that Eleanor held her down to kiss her, thus making Eleanor a predator in the eyes of every thirteen-year-old at camp. 

Max and his banner for his club.
Far too realistic, thank you.
Students sitting in very vertical tiers of seats, applauding for Max. Drea is in the center of the bottom row with her arms crossed.
What is this seating arrangement? It reminds me of something, but I can’t put my finger on it.
Gabbi and Eleanor walking around campus together.
Oopsy toots! Crushes were not part of anyone’s master plan!

United in vengeance, Drea and Eleanor decide to carry out revenge on behalf of each other. No one would ever suspect the two of them would be in on it together so, much like murder with an icicle, it seems to be the perfect plan. You can be damn sure this plan includes a makeover for Eleanor, which she says, “feels so problematic.” Drea agrees, but she squeals as she jumps up and down, “it’s so much fun!”

Drea being excited and Eleanor being disgusted by the impending makover.
Makeover time!! Look how good they are together!
Eleanor after she is made over with a blonde bob a lavender beret and a lavender cape, blowing a kiss at the camera.
And BOOM! It’s quite the makeover!

Once made over, Eleanor will infiltrate Drea’s old clique in order to get dirt on Max and expose him in front of the entire school. When Eleanor expresses concerns about losing herself in this charade Drea scoffs, “Don’t be so dramatic. All I’m asking you to do is dissociate from your body and be someone you’re not so these popular kids will invite you into their group.” I mean, that’s a very succinct summation of the trauma of high school, and much of the rest of your life if you’re not careful. Drea will be charged with Carissa, who she is sure will be a cinch to burn to the ground because, “our bodies, our choices, our thoughts are all policed by shame.” It turns out she’s wrong about Carissa, but that line is right about so many things that I can feel the bile in my throat. 

Carissa and Drea at the farm.
There are specific farm uniforms? I’m not sure if I should be screaming cult or too much wealth or both.
Eleanor and a boy with blue hair sitting next to each other at a dinner.
What?!? More possible crushes in the midst of revenging? What are the chances?

Now, you know some characters are going to fall farther down social rabbit holes than they expect, some quasi-thwarted love interests will emerge, some lessons will be learned,  and some twists will turn before the credits roll. The best part of it by far is watching Eleanor and Drea’s friendship evolve and grow into one of intimacy and honesty, even if there is still a rather large secret lurking in the background. I know this is a satirical caper, but there are moments that really capture the pent up rage, sadness, and confusion that often come with being a teenage girl in this society, which so often gets interpreted as catty meanness or being “psycho teenage girls.” So often in movies we see women and girls pitted against each other, without any acknowledgement that they’ve been duped into fighting each other or themselves instead of society.  In one scene Drea says to Eleanor that “there’s this knot in my chest…and the Max stuff made it worse, but…it’s always been there. And everyday I feel it getting tighter and stronger. And I feel like it’s choking me. Sometimes it just hurts to exist, you know? I just want to feel normal again.” Eleanor says she knows exactly what she means, and, phew, yeah, I bet so many of us do. In another part, when Eleanor is speaking to someone who once bullied her she says, “Rumors are not harmless little comments…it grows and grows and grows until it follows you wherever you are. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep anymore…And the worst part is you don’t even remember doing this to me.” It’s one of the more poignant explanations of bullying, of rumors, of casual meanness that I’ve ever heard. It’s also when you want to reach through the screen and tell these girls that it’s forgiveness, apologies, and freedom they’re looking for, not revenge, which is not the healing balm it looks like from far away. Well, except maybe in the case of Max. Do revenge on that fucker, for all the good it will do. 

Drea and Eleanor laying
The intimacy of teenage girls’ friendships can be a thing of beauty. Please note: They get are wearing comfy clothing here! Hallelujah!!
Eleanor in a black sparkly jacket with her chin in her hand.
I will not give away the spoilers, but Maya Hawke is so good in this scene. As is her jacket. I know someone is going to be tempted to say how much she looks like her mother, but let’s let the woman just have her own face.

However, I kind of wish the movie had taken the opportunity to somehow widen its focus beyond Drea and Eleanor to encompass more girls, both in the angry quest for vengeance and their eventual realizations. I think it would have helped it stick the final landing a bit better. The same is true of the movie’s portrayal of the larger world. There are references to the patriarchy, to white kids being treated better than Black and brown kids, to other kinds of privilege but, much like Headmaster Buffy in the beginning, the focus is mostly on the individual situations, and I feel like broadening the scope could have added depth. But maybe that’s an unrealistic expectation on my part. 

Also, there is a scene where people get unwittingly mass drugged. Please! For the love of all that’s good and golden, I don’t know how many times I need to say that this is a.) tired and played out and b.) just really disturbing. Like, drugging people without their knowledge or consent isn’t fun and playful. Stop writing it like it’s some kind of romp. This is not an unrealistic expectation on my part.

Look, I don’t mean to continue to drag on Headmaster Buffy, but she also tells Drea that “you’re never more alive than when you’re seventeen years old.” Is that a movie reference I’m not getting? I frickin’ hope so, because otherwise, no. Please stop telling young people (or people of any age) that they are currently in the best time of their life. You don’t know their life. Maybe this woman is going to blossom when she’s forty. However, Headmaster Buffy does also tell Drea that it’s perfectly okay to not have her life figured out right now. And that, my friends, is always good advice. No matter your age. 

Drea laying on her stomach on a bed while she looks a Eleanor's emotional support lizard who is wearing a pale yellow sundress.
Also, find someone you can really open up to. Maybe that’s a lizard in a yellow sundress.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

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