Director: B.J. Novak
Writer: B.J. Novak
Stars: Isabella Amara, Nathaniel Augustson, Grayson Berry
“Vengeance 2022” by B.J. Novak, which premiered last night at the Tribeca Film Festival (opens July 29), is an irresistible original: a heady, light-hearted, witty tale that draws just enough from the real world to take you with it. It’s both a sinister murder mystery in the heart of the country; a culture shock comedy that finds Ben Manalowitz (played by Novak), an acerbic New York writer and podcaster, descending into the desolate depths of West Texas; and a meditation on blue state/red state values that gradually escalates into something bigger: a cosmic riff on how the two sides of America are working, almost in tandem, to divide the country.
Novak, an actor best known for his role in “The Office” (where he also served as writer, executive producer and director), presents what might have been a rickety swagger as if he were holding the audience in the palm of his hand. hand. His hand. “Revenge,” which he wrote and directed (it is his first feature film), was made with such confidence and enthusiasm, and is held together by one vision: loss, ambition, addiction, conspiracy theory, and how we all are. victims. of contemporary image culture, which is so sharp and sharp that it marks the arrival of a potentially important filmmaker.
After a prelude set in a dark-as-midnight Texas oil field, with murky hints of foul play, the film opens with Ben and his friend, played by John Mayer, investigating the women at the Soho House, exchanging tips on how to play . the connection game In the space of four minutes, the attitudes they express about serial dating and “commitment” – a concept as foreign to them as a ritual from a distant galaxy – are presented with a compact misanthropic certainty that makes us think we are seeing something. 21st century version of “Swingers”. (I have no doubt that Novak could make that movie, and that it could be as good as “Swingers.”) The ritual phrase of agreement they keep saying is “one hundred percent,” as if they’re sure of everything. “Revenge,” among other things, is a comedic jab at the false armor of cosmopolitan masculine certainty.
At the party, Ben makes an introduction to a podcast producer, Eloise, played with scintillating cynicism by Issa Rae, and we hear the intricate but slightly annoying way his mind works. Ben’s theory that what’s really fragmenting our lives is our newly controlled sense of time has a lot to say for it. However, we also can’t help but hear how enamored he is with the sound of his own mind. He’s a brainiac narcissist, too full of theories, and Novak gives him a crackling surface and saturnine depth. The actor, with his big eyes, his whiplash utterance and his look of geeky mistrust, would be well cast to play Lou Reed. Yet in “Revenge,” he makes Ben a miniature portrait of New York’s new generation of careerist writers whose idealism is submerged in opportunism.
Ben goes on a date (when the woman arrives at her apartment, he greets her with a friendly “How’s the world of books?”, not realizing that she’s not the publication’s connection). In the middle of the night, after they’re in bed, he’s woken up by a scary-sounding call from a southern stranger, telling Ben that his girlfriend is dead. This would be a novelty for Ben, since the concept of “girlfriend” is also from that distant galaxy. But he did know the girl in question (they hooked up a couple of times), and before long he finds himself speaking at Abilene Shaw’s (Lio Tipton) funeral, right next to a picture of her with a guitar (“She loved music, I know that”), in rural Texas.
Why would she be there him? You have to stick with that (although it’s actually explained later). Ben meets members of Abby’s family: his mother, grandmother and two sisters, his little brother and his older brother, Ty (Boyd Holbrook), a wild redneck who has decided that Abby was murdered and wants Ben to find her. help. solve the crime. He wants revenge from her. This all seems, for a scene or two, like a very cinematic setup. Ben is the kind of New Yorker for whom Texas isn’t a real place; for him, Texas is the Austin of “South-by”. And as we catch a glimpse of the family’s station wagon, with its twin rifles mounted in the rear window, we wonder if the film will be a simplistic Manhattan-swell-among-the-gun-nuts, geek-out-of-water comedy.