Ben Manalowitz (B.J. Novak) is an aspiring New York podcaster in search of a story. When the body of a woman he had 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.
What We Thought:
99% of Vengeance is really good. Honestly, 99% of Vengeance is top five of 2022 so far. Unfortunately it’s that 1% that has me utterly baffled. I was really enjoying the film until the very end. The ending just doesn’t work for me. I won’t spoil it, but I definitely walked out scratching my head a bit.
Up until the ending I was laughing, connecting with the characters and enjoying myself. There are timely jokes about today’s lifestyle like dating, how we use nicknames in our phone contacts, what we enjoy listening to on podcasts and current slang. There are jokes about Texans (and the South overall) from a New Yorker’s point of view that are funny, but also show the Northeast’s elitism. It’s not meanspirited though because B.J. Novak’s character of Ben grows and sees how bad he’s been towards these people especially early on.
It’s Novak’s use of the fish-out-of-water storyline that allows that growth. Not only is he a Northerner in Texas which brings all kinds of stereotypes on both sides, he really didn’t know the dead woman all that well. Her family thought he was her boyfriend when in reality they were just hooking up. Not only do both sides sort of pick on each other with the North vs. South angle, but he genuinely has no idea who these people really are which opens the door for laughs and growth. The grandmother character gets big laughs. The younger brother is the heart and soul. I personally have family from Texas and the south so I’ve met people like this. I’m a Northerner from New England so I 100% related to Ben’s experience.
Unfortunately I’m still questioning that ending days later. The movie doesn’t go the way I expected which is great, but I also don’t like the exact ending. It seems out of character for this group of people. I’m not sure how it should have ended or how I would have ended it to make it better, I just know its ending seems rushed and out of place.
That’s a shame because B.J. Novak’s directorial debut was really working for me. Vengeance might have Ashton Kutcher’s best performance to date and all the supporting cast (Boyd Holbrook, Issa Rae, J. Smith-Cameron, Dove Cameron, etc.) are really good as well. It’s funny. It has heart. It’s completely relatable. I just wish the ending was different for me.