Movie Review ~ Do Revenge

The Facts:

Synopsis: After a clandestine run-in, Drea (Alpha, fallen it girl) and Eleanor (beta, new alt girl) team up to go after each other’s tormentors, the scariest protagonists of all: teenage girls.
Stars: Camila Mendes, Maya Hawke, Austin Abrams, Rish Shah, Talia Ryder, Ava Capri, Jonathan Daviss, Maia Reficco, Paris Berelc, Alisha Boe, Sophie Turner
Director: Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Rated: NR
Running Length: 118 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  If you’re putting me in a locked room and asking me to scribble a list of my Top 3 favorite specialty movie genres on the wall, it would have to be these. 

1. The Shark Film 
2. The Creature in Space Film 
3. The Bitchy High School/College Film

So far this summer, I’ve had my fill of the shark film (see The Reef: Stalked and Maneater, or better yet, don’t and see JAWS if it’s still in IMAX near you), and I can watch Alien or its sequel anytime I want. I must admit that I’ve cycled through my favorite high school comedies more than a few times, knowing the beats and lines of the classics for most by heart. 

When I first heard about Do Revenge, I knew it was initially called Strangers. That could only mean one thing, like Amy Heckerling’s all-time hit Clueless, which derived inspiration from Jane Austen’s novel Emma, screenwriters Jennifer Kaytin Robinson and Celeste Ballard were borrowing from another master. The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Very loosely based on 1951 Strangers on a Train (even less than 1987’s Throw Momma From the Train was), this wicked little zinger is a breath of fresh air as we move into the hottest part of the summer.

It’s spring at Rose Hill prep school, and junior Drea Torres (Camila Mendes, Palm Springs) is sitting on top of the world. She has a great group of friends, the most popular boy in school is hers, she’s in a video for Teen Vogue, and her #1 pick for college (Yale) is interested. Not bad for a girl that attends school on a scholarship and is surrounded by classmates who don’t understand the sacrifices she’s made to get where she is today. She seems to have forgotten a little of that humility, but now she’s ready to party and enjoy the end of the school year. Then she makes a classic blunder…she trusts the wrong guy.

Boyfriend Max (Austin Abrams, Chemical Hearts) leaks a raunchy video she sent to him, ruining her reputation overnight, jeopardizing her collegiate future, and seriously impacting plans for a perfect senior year. Working at a tennis camp over the summer to hide from all the eyes that have seen her online video, she meets Eleanor (Maya Hawke, Fear Street: Part One – 1994), a tomboy she bonds with over swapped stories of broken trust. Eleanor is transferring to Rose Hill in the fall, and, surprise, her bully also attends. When fall rolls around, the two stay out of sight in public, but behind closed doors, the summer friendship turns into a plot to destroy the tyrants that ran their names through the mud. How far is too far when the future, and high emotions, are on the line?

Nicely harnessing an air of surreal reality, Do Revenge sits comfortably on the shelf with Heathers (a live musical version debuts on Roku this weekend) and Jawbreaker. The buttery pastel uniforms worn at school (seriously, you’ll believe anyone looks good in a whipped lavender capelet and matching beret) are in pleasant contrast with the outlandish fashion designs created by Alana Morshead. The supporting cast members all sport impressive duds, but Morshead saves the most distinctive styles for Mendes and Hawke, who show up in several jaw-dropping outfits during the film. Coupled with a slight fantasy-like school setting and outdoor locations that feel a little outside of the natural world, you have a movie set now that definitely takes place on a different planet.

Everything can look great but without a solid cast to support it, what’s the point? Directing her screenplay, Robinson (a writer for Thor: Love and Thunder) nails it across the board. Precious few adults are present (one major cameo Netflix has asked us not to spoil, even though they recently released an ad featuring them), so the film primarily rests on the shoulders of Mendes and Hawke. Each actress has individual moments to carry the movie, but I give the slight edge to Hawke for blowing me away with a character that gets more complex as the story develops. There are no spoilers, but Robinson and Ballard’s screenplay has more up its sleeve than meets the eye at the outset. Hawke looks and sounds so much like her mother, Uma Thurman, that it’s eerie.

Like another release this week, The Woman King, Do Revenge stumbles when it includes a romantic subplot that feels squeezed in rather than organically grown. It only adds to the long run time, and a wildly careening third act doesn’t help. Some may think a slight detour featuring Sophie Turner (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) is dragging things, but Turner is so ferociously funny in just two scenes that I wouldn’t lose her presence for anything. Thankfully, I think Robinson has a noble end goal with Do Revenge that passes the right message on to the viewer, and it’s a message its target audience could hear more of now. With a soundtrack that has nothing but winning needle drops, eye candy clothes that don’t quit, and leading performances that hit their target like twin lighting bolts, this is worth skipping school to watch.

Movie Review ~ Palm Springs


The Facts
:

Synopsis: When carefree Nyles and reluctant maid of honor Sarah have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated as they are unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other.

Stars: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, Dale Dickey, Tyler Hoechlin, J.K. Simmons, Camila Mendes

Director: Max Barbakow

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Most movies are written, produced, and edited months and months before their intended release date so it would be impossible for any film to truly predict where the world would be when the project is revealed for public consumption.  Occasionally there are times when a movie is released at an opportune time that just happens to coincide with a major event and it seems like the creators had a kind of crystal ball in predicting the future.  An example off the top of my head is when The China Syndrome was released in March of 1979, a mere twelve days before the nuclear incident at Twelve Mile Island which bore a striking resemblance to the events depicted in the movie.

So you have to imagine that aside from general feelings of concern for their family, friends, and loved ones the creators of the Sundance hit Palm Springs were just a little happy to see their movie expressed tracked from its original theatrical release by distributors Hulu and Neon and sent right to Hulu’s streaming platform in time for the fourth of July weekend.  After all, by this time countless potential viewers had been cooped up indoors since early March and had been living what felt like the same day over and over again.  What better way to reward them than by offering up relatable laughs in a smart, funny comedy about a guy and girl stuck in a similar situation?

Waking up on the morning of a friend’s wedding he doesn’t want to attend with a girlfriend he doesn’t like, Nyles (Andy Samberg, Hotel Transylvania 2) is already over it.  He goes through the motions of the day and barely makes an effort to stay present at the wedding or the reception after.  His interactions with the guests seems strident at times, gregarious at others…like that fun guy at the party who can turn on a dime if he has one drink over his limit.  He does wind up having too many and saves maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti, The Wolf of Wall Street) from making a speech she clearly doesn’t want to give.  Finding a kindred soul also having a terrible time, Sarah is intrigued by Nyles and follows him for the rest of the evening…eventually leading her to a cave in the desert with a special power.  She enters and then wakes up the next morning…which is the same morning as the one before.

Turns out the cave holds a portal in the time space continuum and Sarah has joined Nyles in a never-ending time loop where they have to relive the same day over and over again.  It doesn’t matter how far they drive or where they are when the day has ended, they’ll always wake up in exactly the same place they woke up the day they went into the cave.  Nyles has lost track of how many days he’s been the loop but Sarah is determined to find a way out, mostly because she’s harboring a secret of why this particular day is one she’s not eager to relieve for eternity.

Obviously, the easy comparison to make here is Groundhog Day and there are flashes of that classic Bill Murray film in some of the concepts found in Andy Siara’s screenplay.  There’s also a little Happy Death Day 2U with a brief diversion into death not being a way out of the loop.  Yet Palm Springs is very much its own individual film and that’s due in no small part to Siara balancing the humor with a few reality checks along the way.  That’s especially surprising giving the people involved behind the scenes who aren’t usually known for living with two feet on the ground.

As an actor, I’ve found Samberg to be mostly obnoxious in a number of his roles but was pleasantly surprised to witness his grounded and wry take on a man resigned to relive a crappy day forever.  We meet him long after he’s accepted his fate so he’s laid-back and carefree…and Samberg wisely avoids making the character such a one-note bonehead that we can’t imagine spending 24 hours with him, let alone infinity.  He’s more than well matched with Milioti, finding that rare thing called chemistry.  She’s got the harder role to navigate because everything is new to her and she’s the one reacting to the situation for the first time.  How she responds dictates how the audience will respond to her and thankfully the role feels fleshed out and is performed with a sharpness not always found in high-concept comedies like this.

In addition to capturing commendable performances from the stars, director Max Barbakow fills the supporting roster with a nice array of character actors that slip in from time to time.  As another looper with a grudge against Samberg, J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man: Far from Home) is used in a utilitarian fashion but the simplicity of the role makes a scene late in the movie land with more impact.  Dale Dickey (The Guilt Trip), Tyler Hoechlin (Everybody Wants Some!), June Squibb (Nebraska), and Peter Gallagher (A Bad Moms Christmas) also show up for little moments here and there, not reserving all the good stuff for Samberg and Milioti.  When a script has extra jokes for small supporting performers and is willing to share, you know it’s the sign of something above average.

The only downside to Palm Springs is I’m not sure it’s a film I’d put on my list to watch again.  It’s entertaining as all get-out and Siara’s script is so strong and on the mark it could easily get some awards recognition at the end of the year.  All the same…I just don’t know if it will hold up on repeat viewings.  That first time through was such a fun discovery, I feel like revisiting these characters wouldn’t capture the same magic.