Do Revenge, a new Netflix movie, borrows ideas from several other movies. Some, like "Clueless" and "Heathers," are comedies that explore the psyche of high school. Some, like "Strangers On A Train," are more conventional tales of cunning planning. In this movie, Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke play two teens who are determined to get revenge on each other's adversaries. I'm Linda Holmes, and today's NPR POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR topic is "Do Revenge."
the sound of music
HOLMES: Cyrena Touros, a contributor to NPR, is here with us today.
TOUROS, CYRENA, BYLINE Dear Linda:
HOLMES: Also joining us is author Ella Ceron, whose novel "Viva Lola Espinoza" is currently available for pre-order and will be released in April.
Hello, ELLA CERON. I appreciate being back, thanks.
HOLMES: I'm thrilled to have you both here. The movie "Do Revenge" relates the tale of Drea (Camila Mendes) and Eleanor (Maya Hawke). They make a strange couple, with Drea being stylish and well-liked and Eleanor being awkward and obviously in need of a makeover. However, they grow close and start planning retaliation against one another's adversaries. Eleanor wants to avenge a bully who mistreated her at camp and outed her, while Drea wants to avenge whoever released a sex tape of her. Don't reveal too much about the subsequent events in the story. That's where we'll leave it. However, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Celeste Ballard, is the film's director. Prior to this, the two collaborated on Robinson's MTV programme "Sweet/Vicious," which revolved around themes of revenge among college students. Netflix is now streaming "Do Revenge."
Cyrena, I'll start by going to you. How did you find the film?
TOUROS: I agree. You know, I feel like rom-coms and teen flicks were my bread and butter when I was a young adult in the 1990s and 2000s. These films dealt seriously with the complicated inner lives of girls and women, as well as the complexity of their feelings. It allowed girls to be wild, heartbroken, angry, and supportive of one another. So in all of those respects, "Do Revenge" is kind of a classic adolescent movie comeback, and it is aware of the company it is keeping. This movie makes so many references to other movies that I adore.
Knowing that "John Tucker Must Die," one of my favourite movies, would be featured in the trailer really drew me in. "Mean Girls" is being given. There is a "10 Things I Hate About You" tribute scene, you know. Additionally, even while it tells a story that seems familiar, it nevertheless somehow manages to seem earned. It employs phones and technology without ever becoming laborious, which I feel like is a common mistake for some of these Netflix original movies where you kind of go, I don't think this screenwriter has spoken to a teenager in the previous 10 years.
HOLMES: I agree. Yeah.
TOUROS: The way this film depicts, for example, the ephemerality of female friendship, in my opinion, is where it really succeeds, and most crucially, on an emotional level. You know, one day you're everything to one other, the next day you're dead to each other when you're an adolescent and a young woman, especially when, like, sapphism is involved. And, you know, I really don't believe that should be an indictment of young ladies' fecklessness so much as it should be a monument to how passionate and deeply feeling they are. Camila Mendes, you know, has tried to exact revenge on her ex-boyfriend Max but has failed, and she is just feeling really cut up and terrible about it. This leads to a really great scene about halfway through the movie.
(SOUNDBITE) FROM THE MOVIE, "DO REVENGE
I have a knot in my chest, says Camilo Mendes, who is playing Drea. It was always there, but the Max thing made it worse. And I can feel it getting stronger and tighter every day. Additionally, I feel like it is choking me.
TOUROS: That struck a chord with my experience as a teenage girl so deeply, you know. And it's one of those dreadful emotions that makes you feel totally alone even though, like, everyone you know has had it at some point. The way these connections and feelings are shown in this film is incredibly successful. And I thoroughly appreciated it.
HOLMES: That's fascinating. I also enjoy that video.
How about you, Ella? How did you feel?
CERON: You know, I think I would characterise that as a perfectly adequate sendup. I gave it some thought, and I think it would still be valid even if people were unaware of the numerous pop cultural allusions it makes. But if you do, it's also much better. It's extremely evident that it's doing that if you grew up watching "Heathers," "Cruel Intentions," or any of these other films. But I do believe that what's really clever about it is that if you look at, I guess, like, the be-all, end-all of these teen movies, which in my heart is "Clueless," one of the nicest things about "Clueless" is that the writing and the vocabulary is incredibly from a bygone era.
It's also commendable that "Do Revenge" avoids the pitfalls of contemporary teen slang. It's just a tonne of extremely intelligent, extremely clever vocabulary that will likely endure. And so it knows, in my opinion, what to imitate and what not to replicate since I believe that many young movies try to make "Clueless" seem like the next big thing, even though they won't succeed in doing so.
Holmes is correct.
You know, it's good to see films that treat teen- and especially teen-girl audiences seriously across all of their emotions, across all of the things that many children are regrettably dealing with today, without necessarily offering many significant solutions. Naturally, it is not advisable to exact retribution on those who carry out the evil deeds of the antagonists in this film. However, it does satisfy some of your wishes in a way.
HOLMES: Certainly. One of the things I found so intriguing was that I was aware that I wasn't understanding all of the references in this film because, in terms of its focal point, I'm a little bit older than it. Therefore, the ones to "Clueless" were the ones I noticed the most. And in a movie like this, when you don't want to feel like you're watching the movie while thinking, "Yeah, no, but this is a derivative of that other thing," I believe there might be a fine line to tread. That's how I felt about the "Clueless" references; what you want to see is that they're embracing their love of this already-existing thing.
One thing I found intriguing was how many people seemed to be thinking, "Oh, so "Heathers," based on the trailer. This is "Heathers." And what interests me is that "Heathers" is one of the ones that I believe it shares the least in common with in terms of tone since it lacks the melancholy of "Heathers." I don't mean to give anything away, but it has a lighter feel. It is also noticeably lighter in tone than, say, a vengeance film like "Promising Young Woman," which many people criticised for, you know, being, like, but does the revenge have to be like that, right?
I believe it is treading a similarity path to several things. Although some aspects are being directly praised, it yet seems to have its own unique touch. I cherish Maya Hawke. On "Stranger Things," I adore her. She is such a fascinating actor, in my opinion. I thought Camila Mendes was excellent in this. It's difficult to portray this character because you've seen her a lot in mean girl stories about popular females. You know, I enjoyed both of these performances.
TOUROS: I agree. I believe Maya Hawke is truly developing anything resembling a soulfulness. She has a fantastic raspy voice, for example. However, this movie had a twist in the plot, and I caught all of her cues. Though she genuinely delivers in both, you can see that something else is going on in her thoughts. I was almost unsure whether I was reading too much into it.
Holmes is correct.
TOUROS: I'm just here to support her in her advocacy of lesbian narratives. Although she hasn't come out as a lesbian in real life, I'm totally on board with her becoming a lesbian icon.
Ella, please share your thoughts on these performances with me.
Because there is so much to play with, CERON: I mean, I thought they were extremely smart and really subtle. I believe I read in a New York Times piece that both performers were reluctant to take on the role of a teenager once more. But as they read the script, they realised that it made sense since it elevated the situation to a new level. In addition, as you mentioned earlier, many people don't realise how intelligent kids are. You know, when I read books or see movies, my unfortunate first thought is frequently, "Have you spoken to a teen?" Computers are in their pockets as they go about. They are very wise. Speaking to teenagers is similar to speaking to adults. They should be regarded as people because they are intelligent and human. To its credit, this film actually accomplishes that.
HOLMES: I agree.
Teenagers are re-discovering "Clueless" and "Heathers," in my opinion, especially on Instagram and TikTok. So even though some could dismiss them as being from a previous generation or something, this is still part of their vocabulary. However, I believe Camila and Maya are both enough near to being adolescent girls to have teenage audiences and fan groups.
Holmes is correct.
CERON:...Are young women. And in my opinion, their performances genuinely convey a sense of respect for and communication with the audience they are performing for.
HOLMES: I agree.
TOUROS: I don't believe you ever truly forget what being a teenage girl is like.
CERON: Absolutely not.
TOUROS: I think that's a pain you basically live with for the rest of your life.
HOLMES: I agree.
You couldn't pay me to do that again, Ceron. Like, it's terrible in distinct ways, as this movie makes clear. And a lot of the time, your closest friends are the ones that cause your unhappiness.
HOLMES: Yes, that is a very good point. I also want to discuss something else that came up in my early discussions about this movie with our producer, Jessica Reedy: the music budget for this movie is unknown, but the needle drops are insane. Additionally, they are reminiscent of that time period. There were times when I wondered if "Flagpole Sitta" was being played in the film.
TRAVELERS: Oh my God. Shout out to Stephen Thompson, I thought. Some Harvey Danger is included in this.
(SOUNDBITE) FROM THE MOVIE, "DO REVENGE
TIMOTHY JUDE HARRIS: (As Peter) I heard what happened as follows. He was blasted by one of his side pieces. She learned that he wasn't merely hiding her. Every clique has a girl he is hitting on.
MENDES: Guess Max's allyship was an act. (As Drea)
HOLMES: I'm aware. And there are a tonne of other songs, too, that aren't just the most recognisable songs from teen movies from the 1990s. Some of them aren't even featured tracks; they're more or less all unfeatured tunes. They are merely utilised in the background. And I was intrigued by the choice to invest in the music at that level because, you know, it's so typical for a movie like this to have a lot of new songs by a lot of new musicians, who, you know, maybe those are the ones I did not clock as much. I was quite curious about the level of adoration for the musical style of the time.
TOUROS: Yes, I did catch it. I believe "Celebrity Skin" by Hole was included. There was, uh, "Kids in America," which appeared in practically every teen film for a good ten years.
HOLMES: I agree.
TOUROS: To your point, Linda, I actually believed that the most of the songs in this movie were extremely contemporary and from the past two to three years. I managed to catch Rosalia, Muna, and the Pom Pom Squad. I thought the soundtrack was excellent, and I was also just grinning to myself because I was aware that Netflix had earlier this year indicated that they were shifting away from original film programming that was more akin to the huge blockbuster movies. Well, certainly, you're squandering your entire budget on these music syncs, I said. I can understand that.
HOLMES: (Laughter) It is real.
However, if Netflix were to quickly shift its budget to, say, a mid-level rom-com, like...
I'm here for it, tourists.
CERON: I'd keep an eye on everything. Please, just do it. I believe...
HOLMES: I concur.
They had a lot of success with "To All the Boys I've Loved Before," Ceron said. You see, there is a demand for it. And I think that treating this seriously would be a recipe for success—you know, a kind of litmus test.
HOLMES: Oh, absolutely. Because of the way studios currently seem to function, mid-budget family films, comedies of romance, and sports films have a better chance of appearing on streaming services than they do of becoming a commercial success when released in theatres. You know, Ella, you briefly discussed this before we got going. This form of Netflix cinematic universe features actors who frequently appear. You made reference to Austin Abrams, who plays Max in this film, saying that you had seen him before and thought, "Oh, yes." He comes from the world of the Netflix teen rom-coms.
Yes, it does resemble the old studio structure where top performers frequently collaborated with the same company. CERON But it's clear that Maya Hawke appeared in "Stranger Things." Camila appears in "Riverdale," which Netflix actually distributed. It is regarded as a Netflix original in nations other than the United States. Therefore, you notice that they use these performers often and commend them for landing the roles. It just starts to sound odd, like, "Oh, hey, hold on a second." They're familiar to me.
HOLMES: Definitely, I agree. And I believe that in the end, this was successful for me in part because you simply layered a cast of likeable performers over a formulaic tale, which isn't necessarily a terrible thing. It's no worse for a movie to be based on a formula that has been used before than it is for it to be based on intellectual property that has already been adapted.
TOUROS: Yeah, it reminded me a lot of growing up with network and cable television and just turning on the TV to find a movie that was already about halfway through. At that point, you knew exactly what the beats were and where it was going, and you could enjoy it whether you started watching it at the beginning or the middle of the film. And I do believe that having these movies readily available for streaming so you can just switch it on has a reassuring effect. As long as the story is well-told, there is nothing wrong with watching comforting television.
TOUROS: I believe that this is.
CERON: I mean, I totally concur, especially given how vivid the colours are. Whether it's the clothes, Miami as a backdrop, or something else entirely, the movie is so colourful. I'm not sure. I believe that occasionally some Netflix originals have this sort of almost plasticky texture, making it obvious that the film was made entirely digitally. Another teen movie, "He's All Same," the remake of "She's All That, had that hyper hyperplasticky (ph) vibe. And in this one, I didn't mind it as much.
The fact that "Clueless" and "Heathers" were definitely filmed on film prevented me from going into the "Oh, I'm watching "Clueless" again kind of, like, stupor." And it consequently gives off a somewhat distinct vibe, especially when older movies are converted to streaming. But this is making me incredibly nerdy. But, yes, that high definition is a result of the time in which we currently live and the types of films that are being made. But the movie is just so vibrant, and it feels so real when they utilise clothing to express stories.
HOLMES: I agree.
TOUROS: It also had a really South Florida-like vibe, which was one of its initial appeals for me as well. Given that I attended high school in South Florida, I kind of recognised Miami in the trailer and thought, "Yeah, that's how people around here look." Even though the private school's uniforms were quite adorable, I thought that pastel colours made perfect sense if you were in South Florida.
HOLMES: I agree. So, let us know your thoughts on "Do Revenge." You can find us on Facebook at pchh and Twitter at @pchh. That concludes our show for the day.
Thank you for being here, Ella Ceron and Cyrena Touros.
TOURISTS: Many thanks.
CERON: Many thanks.
HOLMES: And of course, thanks for tuning in to NPR's POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. Candice Lim produced and Jessica Reedy edited this episode. Our theme song is by Hello Come In. You all will see me, Linda Holmes, tomorrow.