There’s a scene roughly halfway through Netflix’s new teen comedy Do Revenge in which the protagonist, Drea (Camila Mendes), picks up a water balloon full of paint. She’s embroiled in a will-they-won’t-they romance with a blue-haired, artsy bad boy named Russ (Rish Shah), and it’s immediately clear that she’s gonna throw the thing at him, that they will then chase each other around covering each other in paint, and they’ll finally make out in an implausibly hot crescendo of a perfect love story between the Yale-bound student and manic pixie dream boy of every high school girl’s fantasies.
The set-up of this scene briefly annoyed me, because I’d seen it before–in one of my favorite movies of all time, 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), when Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) and Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) make out in a similarly hot paint-throwing situation. Then it occurred to me that this was a deliberate throwback—a perfect homage, really—and one of many in a film that very smartly pays tribute to all the greatest high school movies that came before it.
It’s really hard to thread the needle between honoring the great teen movies of the past and lazily ripping them off, and Do Revenge manages to do the former really well. Our streaming platforms and movie theaters are clogged with remakes and renditions of the biggest cinematic hits of decades past (Hulu’s How I Met Your Father, Scream 6, and even Mean Girls 2) trying to ride the coattails of golden ages that have come and gone. It feels like Hollywood has taken a wash-rinse-repeat approach to filmmaking, hoping that we wouldn’t notice. But we always do!
Do Revenge, inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on the Train, manages to be a perfect homage to its teen flick predecessors without feeling like a photocopied page from their books. Combining the best elements of (and explicit references to) all the films we loved from the ’90s and early aughts—namely, Clueless, Mean Girls, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Cruel Intentions—the movie is an instantly iconic twist on a high school dramedy that manages to be extremely modern, while also skewering the most ridiculous elements of the current cultural moment.
The movie centers around Drea (Camila Mendes), a hot student of lesser means on a scholarship trying to fit in with the rich cool kids, and Eleanor (Maya Hawke)—both of whom are hell-bent on exacting revenge against the peers that hurt them badly. In Drea’s case, an ex leaked her sex tape; in Eleanor’s case, a lesbian summer camp crush falsely claimed that she’d held her down and tried to kiss her. Faced with the daunting task of surviving senior year as social pariahs, the unlikely pair hatches up a plan to take down each other’s nemeses, and, of course, all hell breaks loose.
The references to old teen flicks aren’t obscure–they’re obvious and deliberate. In one scene, Drea holds a bubblegum pink feathered pen nearly identical to the one Cher held in a Clueless scene. The school’s headmaster is played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, a 90s teen icon who also starred in Cruel Intentions. Eleanor’s love interest gives her a tour of her new high school, pointing out various social groups, a la Cher showing Tai around in Clueless–and there’s an equivalent makeover scene. The film’s soundtrack is packed with songs from most of the aforementioned movies, including “Dreams” by the Cranberries and “Kids in America” by Kim Wildes, alongside a modern emo high school hit by Olivia Rodrigo to keep things current.
While Do Revenge is clearly a love letter to our favorite old movies, it manages to be thoroughly of the moment in a way that feels relevant, funny, and somehow not cheesy or offensive. Drea’s deeply problematic ex, Max, for instance—the Big Man on Campus who leaked her sex video—has founded a group on campus called “Cis Hetero Men Championing Female Identifying Students League.” He’s fronting as cartoonishly woke while undermining women in real life—a sharp, fresh cultural commentary, if there ever was one.
Of course, the film also gifts us with new, instantly iconic one-liners with the power to sear themselves into our memories for years to come. Lines like “Peaking in high school is cringe anyway,” and “Is ‘do revenge’ even proper grammar?” have the potential to carry the social resonance of lines like Mean Girls’ “On Wednesdays, we wear pink.”
Do Revenge is written for today’s teenagers as much as it’s written for millennials nostalgic for the guilty pleasures of (relatively recent) cinematic history. It manages to deliver something new and relevant while honoring the greats that came before–and not in a derivative way. The cinematography is stunning, the soundtrack perfect, and the script instantly iconic. More like this, please, Netflix—and we’ll keep our subscriptions to your service.