simple hit counter

Accused of anti-Semitism, Netflix hit Do Revenge should have done its due diligence

The number one movie in North America this weekend on Netflix, the largest streaming platform, is a not-so-great but certainly watchable teen comedy called Do Revenge. (His bad grammar is discussed in the film.)

It’s a lightweight affair that wears her love of last-generation high school movies like Heathers, Clueless, Ten Things I Hate About You, and Mean Girls on its finely tailored sleeve. But apart from some really spectacular outfits, “Do Revenge” doesn’t have much to offer in terms of an original plot or clever dialogue.

There’s no reason to debate it in such a lofty news publication – and surely the young folks tuned in this weekend will soon have their attention diverted by the next streaming product – other than the fact that some folks on the social Media accuse the film of anti-Semitism.

Facebook posts and Twitter comments point out that some viewers were surprised at how a character’s Jewishness fitted into the film. Here is how the target audience would say the tea:

“Do Revenge” is set in an ultra-elite prep school. Everyone schemes against everyone and no one is, at least until the very end, a pillar of justice. Our main characters (played by Camila Mendes and Maya Hawke) make a pact to fulfill each other’s desires for revenge.

The concept is loosely based on the plot of Patricia Highsmith’s novel Strangers on a Train (later filmed by Alfred Hitchcock and later used by Danny DeVito in Throw Momma From The Train). Highsmith’s book isn’t credited as an official source for “Do Revenge,” but one of the girls reads it in a very brief take as a tongue-in-cheek wink for those who understand the reference.

There are some twists and turns that show just about everyone at school is hateful and sneaky and obsessed with fake Instagram likes and whatnot, and the cast is a rainbow of diversity of all races and sexual orientations. However, the biggest villain, the one with the richest and most political father, is an idiot named Max Broussard, played by Austin Abrams.

Austin Abrams as Max in Do Revenge. (Kim Simms/Netflix)

Wikipedia, which is incredibly good at pointing out “who is a Jew,” says that Abrams’ father is of Russian-Jewish descent. We hear nothing of Broussard’s ethnicity, although at one point he uses the Yiddish word “kvell.” But towards the third act of this film, set in Miami where shirts are frequently unbuttoned, we see a Star of David necklace quite prominently.

Why, some have asked, is the only Jew in the film a sexist, manipulative jerk who turns out to be the puppet master of the school’s toxic social structure?

Speaking this way, one can understand why some people feel uneasy.

But there is a twist. Two supporting characters in the film are friendly, 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 that’s relevant. (I know she’s not Wynona Ryder’s daughter, which seems to be a very common question, and with good reason – they look quite alike!) But logically the character is Jewish and she smells like a rose.

Maia Reficco as Montana, Paris Berelc as Meghan, Maya Hawke as Eleanor and Alisha Boe as Tara in Do Revenge. (Kim Simms/Netflix)

Still as a person on Twitter mention, that, we never see them wearing a Star of David or Chai or anything like that. Someone half-watching this movie while texting or TikToking or whatever else the intended audience is doing couldn’t make the connection.

The politics of the film, as it stands, is vaguely liberal.

Maya Hawke as Eleanor in Do Revenge. (Kim Simms/Netflix)

We sympathize a little with Camilla Mendes’ character as an ambitious minority who attends this ridiculously lavish school on a scholarship. Maya Hawke’s character is gay, and her sexuality is not momentarily rejected by any of the other characters (although they are “evil” for other reasons). For a film that seems to take great care to be on the “right side” of things, the conscious decision to turn the incorrigible villain into a Jew stands out. Wasn’t there a producer somewhere on set who said, “Uh, are you sure you want to do this?”

Of course, actually, growing up in New Jersey (that’s like Florida plus snow), I definitely knew some kids like Max Broussard. Some were Gentiles, some Jews. Art is meant to reflect life, and I worry a lot when peanut gallery social media users want to restrict art based on what’s considered politically correct.

The recent extraordinary film Everything Everywhere All At Once came under fire because a character played by Jewish actress Jenny Slate was named “Big Nose” by a Chinese character. The film’s makers, who are not Jewish, apologized, although I don’t think they should have. For starters, “big nose,” which I learned as a result of that little brouhaha, is a common, rude word many Chinese use against all white people. But on top of that, life is chaotic and people are multi-faceted, and to weed that out of movies and turn everything into kindergarten is going to make for a very boring culture.

However, unlike “Everything Everywhere All At Once”, “Do Revenge” is such a mediocre product that I cannot muster the strength to defend it as a sacred work of art. Unlike the “Big Nose” situation, which stems from a place of honesty with a character, the front-and-center placement of a Star of David in an otherwise frothy and unforgettable film just feels, as my British friends might say it, an “own goal”. They should have saved themselves the headache and not taken it into account.

Is it antisemitism? I do not know. People should make films about whatever they want, and pretending that all Jews are saints is stupid. Normally here I recommend you to watch the film and decide for yourself, but as a critic I really can’t recommend you to go that route either. So we’re stuck. Someone has clearly “taken revenge” on all of us.

You are an engaged reader

That’s why we launched the Times of Israel ten years ago, to provide discerning readers like you with essential coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.

So now we have a request. Unlike other news agencies, we have not set up a paywall. However, as the journalism we do is expensive, we invite readers who have found The Times of Israel important to support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.

For just $6 a month, you can support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREEas well as access exclusive content only available to members of the Times of Israel Community.

Many Thanks,
David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel

Join our community Join our community Already a member? Sign in to stop seeing this

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published.