Movie Review: ‘Vengeance’

Bad things happen all the time for no good reason. This is a simple fact of life that most people do not want to accept. Because of this, conspiracy theories develop and spread to try to give meaning to the bad things, to make them more important. This is the underlying premise/plot of the deeply profound and insightful new movie Vengeance.

On the surface, Vengeance is a fish-out-of-water story about a New York City writer/podcaster/radio host who is guilted into travelling to Texas to attend a funeral for a girl with whom he randomly hooked up a few times. While there, he decides to write a story about her family, conspiracy theories, the human need to feel important, and Texas. However, while getting to know the family, the community, and Whataburger, he slowly falls into the trap of his own narrative, believes there is more to the dead girl’s story, and subsequently tries to solve her “murder” while potentially putting his own life in danger.

Writer, actor, and first-time director B.J. Novak (The Office, The Internship) takes the lead as Ben Manalowitz (a character seemingly named after himself given his full name according to Wikipedia is Benjamin Joseph Manaly Novak). Ben is the aforementioned New York City writer who finds himself in meaningful and somewhat humorous awkward situations as he tries to get to know, and record a podcast about, the people of the foreign land known as Texas.

The humor is cute and entertaining while playing on some standard Texan stereotypes; characters wearing boots, cowboy hats, being lax about gun safety, etc. I have lived in Texas for most of my life and I have never seriously worn cowboy boots or hats, rarely see people wearing boots or hats, could not care less about football, and have never owned a gun let alone hung one in a place that would obstruct my view while driving. However, I can relate to some things presented in the movie, like I have had a “Frito Pie” and I do like Whataburger (which is heavily featured in the movie), though I do frequent other restaurants. I found myself relating more to Ben than the Texas family, but Texas is a big state, so I am sure the archetypes in this movie exist somewhere.

And the movie offers some plausible reasoning for why these people, and others around the country, are the way they are. Therein lies the real beauty of this movie, in my opinion. In between the humor and very brief action, most of which can be seen in the trailers, it has a deeply profound story and grand monologues and ideas about Texans, musicians, love, and modern society in general. It touches on how we do not really experience anything together anymore thanks to modern technology and how and why we cannot even agree on facts because we are so divided. It shows how people can be trapped in a role they do not want to play and how the desire to be more can shape a person’s life.

I enjoyed this movie considerably, even with it poking fun at the state in which I live (though, to be honest, I haven’t been thrilled with some directions Texas has been heading lately and I am hoping certain things change in a few months). B.J. did a Q&A after the screening to which I went which was a nice bonus to the movie; he admitted some things in the movie were based on his experience/research (like not knowing Texas lost the Alamo). The movie does have some flaws, but the story is great on many levels, and it has a few good surprises as well (even more if you do not watch the trailers).

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