The number one movie in North America this weekend on Netflix, the biggest streaming platform, is a not-particularly-good-but-certainly-watchable teen comedy called “Do Revenge.” (Its poor grammar is discussed in the film.)
It is a light affair that wears its love of the last generation’s high school movies such as “Heathers,” “Clueless,” “Ten Things I Hate About You,” and “Mean Girls” on its finely tailored sleeve. But other than some truly spectacular outfits, “Do Revenge” doesn’t have much going on in terms of an original plot or clever dialogue.
There is no reason to be discussing it in such an august news publication — and surely the youngsters who tuned in this weekend will have their attention diverted in short time by the next streaming product — except for the fact that some people on social media are accusing the movie of being antisemitic.
Facebook posts and Twitter comments indicate that some audience members were surprised by how one character’s Jewishness incorporated itself into the film. Here is, as the target demographic would say, the tea:
“Do Revenge” is set at an ultra-elite prep school. Everyone is scheming against everyone else and no one, at least until the very end, is a pillar of righteousness. Our lead characters (played by Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke) make a pact to fulfill the other’s revenge wishes.
The concept is loosely based on the plot of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, “Strangers on a Train” (later adapted to film by Alfred Hitchcock and, even later, used by Danny DeVito in “Throw Momma From The Train”). Highsmith’s book is not credited as an official source for “Do Revenge,” but one of the girls is seen reading it in a very short shot as a wink for those who catch the reference.
There are some twists and turns which reveal that nearly everyone in the school is catty and deceitful and obsessed with phony Instagram likes and whatnot, and the cast is a rainbow of diversity of all races and sexual orientations. However, the biggest baddie, the one with the richest and most politically connected father, is a twerp named Max Broussard, played by Austin Abrams.
Wikipedia, which is eerily good at pointing out “who is a Jew,” says Abrams’s father is of Russian-Jewish heritage. We don’t hear anything about Broussard’s ethnicity, though he does use the Yiddish word “kvell” at one point. But toward the third act of this Miami-set movie, where shirts are frequently unbuttoned, we see, quite prominently, a Star of David necklace.
Why is it, some have asked, that the only Jew in the movie is a sexist, manipulative jerk who is revealed to be a puppet master of the school’s toxic social structure?
Spoken that way, one can understand why some might feel queasy.
But there’s a twist. Two supporting characters in the film are kind, and one of them, Max’s sister Gabbi, represents the voice of moral clarity throughout the drama. I have no idea if Talia Ryder, who plays Gabbi, is Jewish, nor do I think it’s relevant. (I do know that she is not Wynona Ryder’s daughter, which is a very common question apparently, and with good reason — they look quite similar!) But, logically, the character is Jewish, and she comes off smelling like a rose.
Still, as one person on Twitter points out, we never see her wear a Star of David or a Chai or anything like that. Someone half-watching this movie while texting or TikToking or whatever else the intended audience might be doing could fail to make the connection.
The movie’s politics, such as there are any, are vaguely liberal.
We sympathize, somewhat, with Camilla Mendes’s character as a striving minority attending this ludicrously luxuriant school on a scholarship. Maya Hawke’s character is gay, and her sexuality is never for a moment unaccepted by any of the other characters (even though they are “bad” for other reasons). So for a movie that seems to be taking great care to be on the “right side” of things, the deliberate choice to make the unredeemable villain a Jew stands out. Wasn’t there a producer somewhere on set to ask, “Uh, you sure you wanna do this?”
Of course, in reality, growing up in New Jersey (which is like Florida plus snow), I definitely knew some kids like Max Broussard. Some were gentiles, some were Jews. Art is supposed to reflect life, and I get very anxious around peanut gallery social media users wishing to restrict art on the basis of what’s considered politically correct.
The recent, extraordinary film “Everything Everywhere All At Once” came under fire because one character, played by the Jewish actress Jenny Slate, was called “Big Nose” by a Chinese character. The creators of the film, who are not Jewish, apologized, even though, in my opinion, they shouldn’t have. For starters, “big nose,” I have learned as a result of this minor brouhaha, is a common, impolite word that many Chinese people use against all white people. But on top of that: life is messy, and people contain many facets, and eradicating that from movies and turning everything into kindergarten is going to make for a very boring culture.
Unlike “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” though, “Do Revenge” is such middling product that I can not summon the strength to defend it as a holy work of art. As opposed to the “Big Nose” situation, which comes from a place of honesty with a character, the front-and-center placement of a Star of David in an otherwise frothy and forgettable movie just feels like, as my British friends might put it, an “own goal.” They should have saved themselves the headache and not included it.
Is it antisemitism? I don’t know. People should make movies about anything they want, and to pretend that all Jews are saints is stupid. Usually this is where I recommend you watch the movie and decide for yourself, but as a critic I really can’t recommend you go that route either. So we’re stuck. Someone has clearly “done revenge” on all of us.
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