B.J. Novak is most known for his work on The Office, but he’s tackling something big with Vengeance. He not only stars in the film, but he also wrote and directed it. That’s a big undertaking and I have to say, I was impressed with Novak’s directorial debut. It’s a very modern story that deals with big subjects and ideas; it’s also a murder mystery black comedy. It also features some great performances throughout as well.
The movie starts off with the introduction of Ben Manalowitz (Novak) talking about dating and life at a party with his friend John (played by John Mayer in a fun cameo). He’s a writer for the New Yorker but he wants to do something more: start a podcast. He gets the greenlight from his boss/friend Eloise (Issa Rae) but everything changes when he gets a call from Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook) to come to the funeral of his girlfriend Abilene down in Texas. The problem is that Abilene is not his girlfriend; they only hooked up a few times in New York.
B.J. Novak does a great job as Ben; he’s a fish-out-of-water down in Texas as your typical Jewish New Yorker, but he plays the role well. Boyd Holbrook is also great as Ty, who is exactly what you would think a man from Texas would be like. There’s a heart though to Ty; he truly cares about his family and he means well with trying to help prove Abilene was murdered.
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Issa Rae does a nice job as well as Eloise; she wants to get the story for the podcast but also wants to make sure Ben is safe. The highlight of the supporting cast though is Ashton Kutcher as Quinten Sellers. It’s the best work I’ve seen from Kutcher in a long time and he’s clearly having a blast playing the colorful character.
The hook being a murder mystery podcast will be instantly relatable to a general audience; it’s something so many people are interested in (my wife included). The film itself is a little uneven at times and the ending is rushed, but it’s still fun at times while also being dramatic when needed. It also showcases the people of Texas in a more flattering way, especially in light of current events the past few months.
Overall, I would recommend checking Vengeance out when you get a chance. I think B.J. Novak has potential as a writer/director, but I think his directing was stronger in this film than the writing. He managed to get some great performances out of his cast, especially Ashton Kutcher; I didn’t think he would be the highlight of the movie for me, but he really was. At its heart though, Vengeance is all about people and how we have more in common than we realize, no matter where we live in the crazy country we call home.