B.J. Novak is probably best known for his supporting role on the hit TV show “The Office.” But in the decade since that iconic show went off the air, Novak has stayed busy popping up both in front of and behind the camera.
Novak has now focused all of his talents on “Vengeance,” the first feature-length movie in which he writes, directs and stars.
It’s an impressive debut as this dark comedy/drama/crime thriller turns out to be one of the best films of the year.
Novak perfectly casts himself as Ben Manalowitz, a self-absorbed New York City journalist who dates multiple women at a time and longs for notoriety.
Ben gets a phone call one night when he learns that a woman named Abilene (Lio Tipton), who he briefly dated and barely remembers, died of a drug overdose while back in her home town in Texas.
Ben reluctantly agrees to attend the funeral after being convinced to attend by Abilene’s live-wire brother Ty (Boyd Holbrook). Abilene’s friends and family believe Ben to be her long-time and devoted boyfriend and there are lots of awkward laughs as Ben tries to get his bearings both socially and geographically.
But just when Ben is about to duck out of this uncomfortable misunderstanding, Ty confides in him that he believes Abilene was murdered and that the two of them should track down her killer.
Sensing an opportunity, Ben agrees to stay and pitches his predicament as a potential podcast to his editor Eloise (Issa Rae).
Ben’s investigation has him crossing paths with various scumbags, members of law enforcement and a free spirited record producer (Ashton Kutcher in arguably the best performance of his career).
Ben comes to discover that he might be in over his head as his preconceived notions of everyone he meets winds up getting turned on its head.
Novak mines a lot of comedy from Ben as a classic fish-out-of-water, but he also did his homework with lots of hilarious, on-the-nose, West-Texas references to Whataburger, Texas Tech football and energy company sponsorships.
“Vengeance” is also packed to the gills with social commentary, particularly on our current media climate and how it stands in the way of meaningful human connections.
“Vengeance” is sharp, funny and thought provoking. It may not wind up be what you were expecting, but it might end up being just what you needed.
“Vengeance” is rated R for language and brief violence.