Over the course of the last several years, filmmakers have been finding inspiration in the work of Jane Austen.
Either via straightforward adaptations, tweaks, or modern updates. For the Miami-set, twisting and turning teen tale “Do Revenge” (Netflix), director and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson looks elsewhere and finds stimulus in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers On A Train” (based on the novel by lesbian writer Patricia Highsmith).
Opening in the spring, just as everything is beginning to blossom, “Do Revenge” is ultimately a story of wilting and rebirth. Popular, but poor, Drea (Camila Mendes), attends prestigious Rosehill on scholarship where she’s a junior with plans to attend Yale. At a posh party thrown in her honor by her BFF Tara (Alisha Boe), Drea reminds us that “you’ve reached the top when someone wants to destroy you.”
That “someone” turns out to be Drea’s entitled boyfriend Max (Austin Abrams) who leaks a provocative and personal video she sent to him, although he denies having done it. After Drea sucker punches Max on campus, the headmaster (an uncredited Sarah Michelle Gellar) has no choice but to put her on probation with a side of community service.
In the summer, Drea works at a tennis camp where she encounters frumpy queer Eleanor (Maya Hawke, who plays lesbian Robin in “Stranger Things”), who describes herself as “Billie Jean King in a sea of Maria Sharapovas.” When Drea has car trouble, Eleanor is there to offer her a ride and they get to know each other better. Eleanor, who is transferring to Rosehill in the fall is well-aware of Drea’s unfortunate situation. She tells Drea a story about a girl named Carissa who betrayed her at summer camp, outing her and turning her into a predator. As luck would have it, Carissa also attends Rosehill.
Come fall, newly enrolled Eleanor also becomes friends with fellow outsider Gabby (Talia Ryder), who just happens to be Max’s sister. Meanwhile, Drea is now a pariah, and Max tries to improve his rep by creating the “CIS Hetero Men Championing Female Identifying Students League.” It’s a transparent act that Drea sees through, and shortly thereafter, Eleanor and Drea team up to exact revenge on those who’ve done them wrong – Max and Carissa.
But it’s not that simple, as we soon discover. After Drea transforms Eleanor into a popular girl enabling her to get close to Max, she buddies up with Carissa who runs the school’s Farm Club as part of her community service. Eleanor and Drea work diligently to uncover secrets about their enemies. Just when you think they are about to take them down, more secrets are revealed, including a particularly shocking one about Eleanor.
With more twists and turns than a newfangled roller coaster, “Do Revenge” does include an unexpected happy ending. However, the ride is bumpy and dizzying and it takes too long to get there.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of eight books including the poetry chapbook Fear of Muses (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.