Vengeance Review | Novak’s Endearing Comedy Has a Big Texas Heart

Vengeance is a comedy-fused mystery about discovering life through someone else’s eyes.

There’s a saying in the United States that practically every American knows by heart: “Everything is bigger in Texas.” Whether this statement is about the spirit of its people or simply a nod to its geography, it’s a sentiment that immediately comes to mind when thinking of the state. B.J. Novak, who took the declaration to heart, is here to show audiences exactly how big everything is in Texas. In his directorial debut, perspective is everything when it comes to love, life, and liberty. Vengeance is a dark comedy-fused mystery about discovering life through someone else’s eyes. And it’s nothing short of hilarious and heartwarming.

B.J. Novak who directed, wrote, and starred in this charming story plays Ben Manalowitz. Ben is an uptight journalist who is looking for his next big tale that will connect with audiences across the country. Determined to find this story, Ben turns to podcasting with the reluctance of his editor Eloise (Issa Rae). Things don’t originally go as planned with this big dream of his. But when his old hook-up Abilene Shaw (Lio Tipton) is found dead, Shaw’s family conjures up a conspiracy, suggesting that someone actually murdered Abi. Ben finds himself traveling from NYC to West Texas to uncover the truth and get that story of a lifetime that he needs for his career.

Ashton Kutcher and B.J. Novak in Vengeance
Courtesy of Focus Features

Hilarious and heartwarming

Throughout B.J. Novak’s film, our inclination to grasp towards any ounce of human connection is on full display. Ben first discovers Abi’s death because of a phone call from her brother Ty (Boyd Holbrook). From Ty’s perspective, Ben was Abi’s loving boyfriend. However, they only casually hooked up on sporadic and limited occasions. Tapping into the reality of perspective, Vengeance’s script leans heavily into the family’s need for closure by inviting Ben to her funeral and the investigation of her death. It is clear they yearn for a connection to the one person they thought Abi was closest to, which unravels both sweet and heartbreaking moments that reveals a bigger truth about Ben than he aimed to seek.

Though the script ventures into the unrealistic with its over-the-top Texas spirit and overused philosophical messages embedded throughout, Vengeance gets one important thing right. It finds a way to compel viewers emotionally, whether they relate to this narrative or not. With the Shaw family, Ben realizes the importance of not judging a book by its cover as he comes to realize his pessimistic views are the very things standing in his way of the truth. As a result, heartwarming moments and learning opportunities become the forefront of the narrative, which makes for a truly wonderful watching experience.

B.J. Novak in Vengeance
Courtesy of Focus Features

Vengeance boasts phenomenal performances.

Novak’s directorial debut is an easy feature to get excited about, conceptually. It’s got dark humor, heart, and a mystery that will keep audiences guessing from beginning to end. This is also a film that boasts phenomenal performances that are so easy to love. J. Smith Sharon as Sharon Shaw plays the mother of Abi. She’s that mama we all need in our lives, demonstrating tenacious grace yet affecting stubbornness when it comes to the livelihood of her family. Ashton Kutcher is also a standout. He plays music producer Quinten Sellers with menacing charm, and his performance is a memorable one. This cast is what makes just about everything in this crazy feature work.

It doesn’t always hit the mark, especially considering the character growths and the ending. But when it’s all said and done, Vengeance is a summer feature worth watching. Though it doesn’t properly explore all of its various themes adequately, it’s entertaining from start to finish and has tremendous heart to compel audiences emotionally. The cast truly shine in this story about human connection and our search for truth. Ultimately, it reveals a great deal about the part of humanity that we so often try to hide. Hold onto your seats for this wild ride!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Watch the trailer for B.J. Novak’s directorial debut below:

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