BJ Novak’s directorial debut in Vengeance is thought-provoking satire at the highest level. When the film begins we meet Ben (Novak), a writer for the New Yorker, going back and forth at a party with John Mayer – yes, that John Mayer – about the hardships of dating multiple women. Flash forward to him getting a phone call in the middle of the night from a stranger. The man on the phone tells Ben that his girlfriend, Abilene (Lio Tipton), is dead and he convinces him to come to the funeral in rural west Texas. The twist – she’s obviously not Ben’s girlfriend, but someone he hooked up with a few times. But somehow he doesn’t correct them or say no.
So, we are then met with some of the most awkward, but hilarious moments as Ben tries to navigate the funeral and not break the lie. Then, when Abiline’s brother, Ty (Boyd Holbrook) is driving Ben back to the airport he tells him that he doesn’t believe his sister died of an overdose. He believes that his sister was murdered. This sets Ben off on a journey of exploiting this grieving family in order to start a podcast and shoot himself into stardom.
VENGEANCE IS SMART FROM ALL ANGLES
Vengeance doesn’t steer clear of the commentary about those who go trudging into middle America returning with aggressive opinions from these “flyover states” that have gotten out of hand. Especially when it comes to these small-town stories that almost always become condescending. Somehow, within these parameters, Novack finds a way to keep Ben unlikeable while also allowing him to learn and grow. This choice allows the writing to find humor and honesty in something that isn’t.
While Ben makes real connections with Abi’s family, and Abi herself the story does an incredible job and pointing out profound truths about America right now, as well as our media’s hand in our countries divide. Novack’s use of west Texan stereotypes also helps move these themes along as the story unfolds. For example, when was the last time you saw a movie or television show about Texas that wasn’t this? Have you ever been to Dallas? Austin? Exactly.
THE INCREDIBLE CAST
Along with BJ Novack, Vengeance stars J. Smith-Cameron as the mother of this stereotypical Texan family, Boyd Holbrook as the oldest brother, Ty, and Dove Cameron as little sister Jasmine. I fell in love with this family and felt for them every step of the way as they endure Ben’s superiority complex. However, Ashton Kutcher is the breakout star of the film. As the smooth-talking producer Quinten Sellers, his natural charm works too well allowing the viewer to be drawn into his trust bubble.
There isn’t a weak link in the entire cast. Everyone serves their purpose while heightening the mystery and moving the story along. Every twist and turn is worth it all the way up to the fantastic finale.
Vengeance hits theaters Friday, July 29th, 2022! Go see it!