Starring: B.J. Novak, Boyd Holbrook, Ashton Kutcher, Issa Rae, J. Smith-Cameron, Eli Bickel, Dove Cameron, and Isabella Amara
Director: B.J. Novak
Who'd have thought a film that starts off so shallowly could be so insightful? B.J. Novak's directorial debut has a lot to say about relationships and the climate of our world, and in true 21st century fashion, it does so through a podcaster. When the film is a grounded, quasi-family story, it’s great. There are some very funny jokes and solid character growth. However, it falls apart in the final act. It relies on a few film clichés and undoes its good work by trying to be bigger than it needs to be. Still, an entertaining watch and solid launching pad for Novak.
B.J. Novak’s Vengeance may not revolutionize murder mysteries or offbeat comedies, but it remains one of the smartest movies 2022 has to offer and a stellar debut for Novak in the director’s chair. While it doesn’t quite succeed at everything it sets out to do, Novak’s ingenious script offers three-dimensionality to characters most other Texas-set comedies would only poke fun at, confronting stereotypes head-on from both sides of the aisle in nuanced and often unexpected ways. The entire cast turns in excellent work too, but it’s Boyd Holbrook and Ashton Kutcher that end up stealing the show.
In his directorial debut, B.J. Novak has a lot on his mind about the current state of America, touching on everything from aspirational fame, hook-up culture, small town bureaucracy, the exploitative true crime genre, and the Red State v. Blue State divide. It’s admittedly a lot, and while the commentary is sharper on some points than others, the gist of what he is saying in the less clever moments still is enough to get you thinking. That’s hardly a complaint though, as Vengeance remains darkly funny with an engaging mystery, not to mention the excellent performances from Boyd Holbrook and, of all people, Ashton Kutcher.