When I watched the trailer and saw that B.J.Novak wrote the film, I really wanted to see the movie mostly because I expected a riotously funny film. In addition, I’d hoped to see an interesting side to Ashton Kutcher. While the film fulfills those expectations, what it does instead is wildly different, twisting perceptions while incredibly funny and witty; it is also surprising and offers profound insight into how society works and our perceptions of others.
Vengeance is a mystery-comedy written and directed by B.J.Novak in his directorial debut. In the film, a journalist and podcaster, Ben Manolowitz (B.J.Novak), gets a call in the middle of the night from the family of a girl he briefly hooked up with, Abilene. Her family thinks they were in a relationship. He flies to Texas, and her brother Ty (Boyd Holbrook) convinces him to stay and investigate her death, saying it was suspicious. Ben’s producer Eloise (Issa Rae), thinks it is a great concept for a podcast and encourages him, so Ben begins interviewing her family and those who knew her, including the owner of the record company that produced her music Quentin Sellers (Ashton Kutcher). But Ben soon finds out nothing is what he expects, including Abilene, and he has to decide if he will reveal the truth to the world or seek vengeance.
One of the aspects of this film that I appreciated the most is the layers. The story has unexpected elements and questions it raises. While the comedy does shine, it is the mystery and drama elements that drive the story forward. As Ben does his interviews, he soon learns that no one in Texas is what he expects. While the people he meets can be conservative, they also have unexpected depths. The story demonstrates how often we have preconceived ideas about others, whether conservative or liberal. It also offers a profound commentary on how society works, how we have disconnected from each other and use our devices and recordings to isolate, and how our own ideas are so often reflected back to us, our own voices. Finally, it questions the concept of false expectations, and the ending is a complete surprise, especially based on the characters and how we have seen them.
The film’s humor is in Ben’s perceptions of others, both the expected reactions of the society he finds himself in and the unexpected moments. Abilene’s sisters want to be famous but don’t know how. Her youngest brother is more perceptive than the rest, even though they call him El Stupido (Elli Abrams Bickle). Granny (Louanne Stephens) is full of fire and has some outrageously funny lines of dialogue. Ben’s interactions with law enforcement are both a statement of society but also amusing in the situation. A lot of the humor is also in Ben’s situations, especially due to his false expectations or ideas of others. The film also satirizes our views of conservative and elitist east coast society. The comedy will make you laugh but also make you think.
The acting is fantastic. B.J. Novak is transformative as Ben, allowing his character to change and grow in his interactions with Abilene’s family. As the writer and director, he manages to multi-task and create an emotional and impactful performance. Ashton Kutcher is brilliant in delivering some of the film’s most insightful and profound lines. We see a far more dramatic persona and far less comedy which is a revelation. Boyd Holbrook, Dove Cameron as Kansas City, and Issa Rae are all equally excellent, each providing comedic moments that allow the story and dialogue to shine. Elli Abrams Bickle and Louanne Stephens are hilarious in their roles. And J.Smith-Cameron as Sharon, Abilene’s mother, is sharp, witty, and warm.
While the film is unexpected in ways, the majority of the film does follow some predictable comedic moments. It also has some slower moments along the way to the conclusion. And while the acting is phenomenal, those lags in the pacing do cause the film to be uneven at times. Despite that, you do find yourself fully engaged in the story, and the ending is a surprise, not because you don’t see it coming, but because it upends yet another expectation for what the film is telling us and what the audience expects.
I think audiences might enjoy this film if you like comedy with a bit of darkness and edge along with unexpected insights. It plays with our ideas of society, of people, and what we think of ourselves. It offers questions and insights that are worth reflecting on but more importantly, it offers a transformation in the characters, and the story takes us on an unusual journey. The acting, especially from B.J. Novak and Ashton Kutcher, is incredible and brilliant. The dialogue and viewpoint of the story will hopefully make audiences consider the masks people wear and their perceptions of others.
4 out of 5 recordings
Official Website: Vengeance Official Site | Vengeance Tickets | Vengeance Trailer
Ben Manalowitz (B.J. Novak) is an aspiring New York podcaster in search of a story. When the body of a woman he’d been hooking up with is discovered in a West Texas oil field, he stumbles onto exactly the sort of true-crime tale that could make his career. Launching an investigation into her death in collaboration with high-powered producer Eloise (Issa Rae), the confident Ben finds himself in over his head attempting to navigate a wildly unfamiliar culture. As he grows unexpectedly close to the young woman’s eccentric family and encounters figures like the enigmatic music producer Quentin Sellers (Ashton Kutcher), he’s forced to confront his own shortcomings and preconceptions. At the same time, he’s drawn into an ill-considered plot to avenge the crime. Emmy Award®-nominee B.J. Novak (The Office) makes his feature film directorial debut with an insightful, irreverent fish-out-of-water black comedy about myth, misunderstandings and murder. VENGEANCE opens in theaters Friday, July 29, 2022.
ONE-LINER: A radio host from New York City attempts to solve the murder of a girl he hooked up with and travels down south to investigate the circumstances of her death and discover what happened to her.