Whatever you think this film is about, you’re probably wrong.
Where would the teen film genre be without the makeover montage? I mean, when it comes to on-screen high school hierarchies, that’s the oldest trick in the book. We all know the formula: a reluctant, unfashionable new girl undergoes a complete transformation into the image of the queen bee. But on Netflix take revengethis trope – and all its problematic associations – is explored in a whole new way.
Peppered with lots of pettiness, kitschy costumes and exciting plot twists, take revenge turns the classic teen rom-com on its head. Set in a swanky prep school, the story follows the unlikely friendship between it girl character Drea (Camila Mendes) and bumbling new girl Eleanor (Maya Hawke). Like any healthy relationship, their bond is based on a desire for revenge. spoilers ahead.
In the film, Drea seeks revenge on her ex-boyfriend. Meanwhile, Eleanor wants to hunt down Carissa, a former classmate who outed her and spread rumors that she was a predatory lesbian. To make this plan work, Drea suggests giving the unassertive Eleanor a daring new look.
But the thing is, Eleanor isn’t the random newcomer she seems to be. Sure, when we meet her, she fits the mold of the mousy, unpopular kid. With an oversized wardrobe, darker colors and a hat that reads “I hate it here,” she stands out in a sea of preppy pastels. She even fights the idea of a facelift (a classic!), saying, “It feels so troublesome,” to which Drea replies, “It is, but it’s fun!”
This exchange sets the stage for the film’s twist on the film’s transformation theme, orchestrated by costume designer Alana Morshead. Unlike the teen movies of yesteryear, Eleanor doesn’t adopt a Type-A popular girl image. Where Drea’s wardrobe is ’90s-inspired, color-coordinated and form-fitting, Eleanor’s new style is simply an elevated version of what she already is. Her long brown hair is cut and bleached. She swaps her muted color palette for warm tones and floral patterns. But through it all she keeps her individuality – she references 60’s fashion and stays true to her androgynous side with pant suits, Bermuda shorts and overalls.
It’s a refreshing change from the usual carbon copy revision sheet. in the clueless, fashion expert Cher (Alicia Silverstone) turns Brittany Murphy’s Tai into a brunette version of herself, with an added mean streak. And in mean girlsCady (Lindsay Lohan) goes from misfit to villain in miniskirts to match the Plastics.
With rising social status and a sense of superiority, the newly transformed character becomes a high school bully over and over again. But Eleanor didn’t need a costume change to show her sneaky side. because in take revengethe makeover theme is actually the mastermind.
In the third act, we learn that Eleanor didn’t want revenge on her classmate, Carissa. She actually aimed – wait for it – at Drea. It turns out that Drea was the one who started those rumors about Eleanor years ago, and Eleanor befriended her on purpose to bring her down. Herein lies the deeper symbolism of the makeover take revenge.
At the beginning of the film, pre-makeover Eleanor hints at her plans for Drea with a cryptic inner monologue. “She doesn’t know it yet, but we’re going to be besties,” she jokes.
After Eleanor’s true intentions are revealed in Act III, her evil side intensifies. She vows to ruin Drea’s reputation. She threatens to drug Drea’s mother. She even hits Drea with her car, ending her up in the hospital. To state the obvious, her bold new look didn’t create her aggressive side, it just suited her well. A makeover made her even more herself.
The film’s conclusion also subverts the traditional makeover trope, which expects the character’s style to evolve once more after learning an important lesson. In the final scene of mean girls, Cady returns to a pared-down wardrobe of jeans and a t-shirt. And in cluelessTai makes amends with Cher after adopting a neutral style that feels more real to her.
But at the end take revenge, Eleanor isn’t downplaying her new look — she’s keeping it. And though she and Drea reconcile, they never seem to fully learn their lessons. As such, their respective flamboyant aesthetics compliment their moral ambiguity, so why bother changing them? Instead, they choose to wallow in their OTT selves—in their fashion choices and in their lives. As Eleanor so eloquently puts it, “I am a young girl. We are psychopaths.”