BJ Novak’s Vengeance brings unique comedy and mystery to the big screen


In the midst of a summer packed with exciting films, there was one movie that stood out to me amongst the many I’d seen. Filled with humor, mystery and emotion, BJ Novak’s Vengeance highlights the clash of cultures between a small-town West Texas family and an aspiring New York podcaster, and demonstrates the human desire for explanation and hope during trying times. 

Known best for his role in The Office, BJ Novak used this project to take his talents to a different aspect of the silver screen; his first ever directing role. While many viewers, including myself, may have been skeptical of Novak’s first production, the final product blew away the expectations. 

Played by Novak himself, Ben Manalowitz is a struggling podcaster/journalist working in New York City. One early morning Ben receives a phone call from a man named Ty Shaw, played by Boyd Holbrook, explaining the tragic passing of Ben’s beloved girlfriend and Ty’s sister, Abilene. Ty puts Ben on the first flight to West Texas for the funeral. Despite the tragic situation, there’s a glaring problem right off of the bat: Ben doesn’t have a girlfriend, and he barely knew Abilene in the first place. 

When Ben arrives in West Texas, he meets the Shaw family, consisting of Granny Carole (Louanne Stephens), mom Sharon (J. Smith-Cameron), sisters Paris and Kansas City (Isabella Amara and Dove Cameron), and little brother Mason (Eli Abrams Bickel).

After a very awkward speech at the funeral, Ben can’t get out soon enough. He plans to drive back to the airport, get home to New York, and forget this odd situation ever happened. However, Ty isn’t letting Ben go just yet. While Abby was said to have died of an overdose, Ty believes her death was foul play, and begs Ben to stay and help him get to the bottom of it. 

Despite dismissing the plea at first, Ben begins to view his experience as an incredible opportunity to launch a hit podcast, a recently popular theme in the entertainment market. Ben decides to stay in Texas for weeks, helping Ty and the Shaw family pick up clues leading to Abby’s death, while also recording his experiences talking to the family and locals, including record producer Quentin Sellers, played by Ashton Kutcher. Ben’s podcast analyzes the Shaw family and the community’s unusual and wacky behavior, and highlights humankind’s desperate need for closure, and in some cases, vengeance. 

Novak’s plot is somewhat complicated, but also plays into a typical and iconic situation, with the protagonist being wildly out of place compared to his everyday life. While Ben is often portrayed as the “smart one” of the bunch, certain instances highlight the unique knowledge, or lack thereof, that each side can provide in the process of cracking the case. 

Although the movie surrounds a serious issue, the comedic nature of the film is incredible. With the sheer idea of a big-city podcaster trying to assimilate into traditional, small town Texas culture, the jokes almost write themselves. Ben is clueless about the typical Texas stereotypes of Whataburger, football, and even the Alamo, while the Shaw family doesn’t seem to be adapted to any modern trends and technology. It’s a clash of one world versus another, and it results in some genius comedic moments. 

If one of the main attractions of this movie doesn’t lure you in, there’s bound to be something that will. The film has an incredible amount of layers, with so many things to be hooked on and pay attention to. There’s comedy, suspense, drama, and crime, all pulled together with a talented cast portraying amazing characters. 

Vengeance isn’t perfect, but it’s fairly close to it. Not only was the film my favorite of the summer, but also of the year, and maybe even the past few. The film is still showing in certain theaters, and has just recently debuted on streaming services including Amazon Prime and Google Play.

If you haven’t watched Vengeance yet, it’s never too late to catch one of the best mystery films of the past couple of years.