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Vengeance (15)

Cast: BJ Novak, Boyd Holbrook, Ashton Kutcher, Issa Rae
Genre: Comedy
Author(s): BJ Novak
Director: BJ Novak
Release Date: 07/10/2022
Running Time: 108mins
Country: US
Year: 2022

New York journalist Ben Manalowitz receives a telephone call from a man called Ty Shaw to invite him to the funeral of his sister Abi, who has died of a drug overdose. Ben and Abi were passing romance acquaintances and the writer agrees to attend the memorial. Heading to the second largest American state, Ben meets the grieving clan. They contend Abi was murdered because she never took drugs.


LondonNet Film Review

Vengeance (15) Film Review from LondonNet

Revenge is usually best served cold – at room temperature, at a push. For his self-penned feature directorial debut, actor BJ Novak serves retribution piping hot with a side order of gallows humour against a backdrop of Texan oil fields and a close-knit community which meets condescension with a cheerfully curt, “well bless your heart!” Vengeance is a smartly written murder mystery that hungrily sinks its teeth into lazy preconceptions about the second-largest state in America and spits out deadpan rebuttals with delicious rapidity…

Novak’s array of targets – which he hits with stinging efficiency – includes commitment-phobic serial daters, privileged white males, gun-toting rednecks, true crime podcasts, cultural appropriation and the scourge of social media. At times, his script pushes too hard for the perfect, polished one-liner but Novak is remarkably adept at simultaneously enforcing and upending cultural stereotypes within the familiar framework of a fish-out-of-water comedy. On screen, his appealingly awkward and misinformed central performance is buttressed by an ensemble of scene-stealers including Ashton Kutcher as a silver-tongued record producer who has a theory about every 21st century malaise.

New York journalist Ben Manalowitz (Novak) is asleep with another meaningless hook-up when his mobile phone skitters on the bedside table. “This is the worst phone call you’re ever going to get in your life. Your girlfriend is dead!” sobs Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook), whose sister Abilene (Lio Tipton) has overdosed in a stretch of desert dubbed The Afterparty. Ben and Abi were fleeting romance acquaintances – she is logged as Texas in his contacts list – but Abi’s family believes Ben was her long-distance boyfriend and he is guilt-tripped into attending the funeral. Following the burial and a hastily improvised eulogy (“She will always be a song in our hearts”), Ben meets Ty and the clan including Abi’s mother Sharon (J Smith-Cameron), grandmother Carole (Louanne Stephens), sisters Kansas City (Dove Cameron) and Paris (Isabella Amara) and younger brother El Stupido (Eli Abrams Bickel).

The Shaws maintain Abi was murdered because she never took drugs. Ben is persuaded to stay for a couple of weeks to gather material for a true crime series produced by industry heavyweight Eloise (Issa Rae). As Ben observes, a dead white girl is “the holy grail of podcasts”. Mexican drug dealer Sancholo (Zach Villa) is a prime suspect and Ty is ready to dole out vigilante justice. “I don’t avenge deaths,” blusters Ben. “I don’t live in a Liam Neeson movie!”

Vengeance is scalpel-sharp and Novak repeatedly draws blood with barbed dialogue and keen observations on modern social dynamics. The unedifying truth about Abi’s final hours emerges organically through streamlined storytelling, deep rooted in a deadly North American epidemic without any known vaccine.

– Jo Planter


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