8/10 Writer/director/actor B.J. Novak (my third favorite BJ behind Billy Joel and…something else I can’t seem to recall right now) got his break through from his role as Ryan Howard in the American version of “The Office”. A lot of people don’t realize that he also woked on that show behind the scenes as a writer and director. Novak has directed multiple episodes of several different TV shows but “Vengeance” sees him take the next step forward into full length feature film making. Overall, Novak provides a terrific debut film, made all the more impressive due to the fact that he wrote, directed, executive produced and acted in this film. Wearing so many different hats might intimidate a lot of talented people in Hollywood, but Novak has been working his way up to this moment over the past couple of decades. “Vengeance” centers on a journalist/podcaster named Ben (Novak) who travels from New York City to Texas to investigate the death (or possible murder) of a girl he used to hook up with. While Ben saw her as a meaningless hookup, the dead girl Abeline Shaw’s (Lio Tipton) family thought that the two were in a serious, long term relationship. Novak’s script is really the strongest aspect as he is able to combine drama, comedy, mystery and a sprinkle of film noir fairly effortlessly. While not 100% of the jokes land, there are definitely several humorous moments that work really well. I was surprised by how many twists and turns the plot took, as the film is certainly more than meets the eye. The acting across the board is strong with Boyd Holbrook standing out as Abeline’s brother Ty, who convinces Ben to solve his sister’s mysterious death with him. The film wouldn’t work if it didn’t have heart to it which Novak thankfully includes multiple scenes dealing with Ben’s interactions with the Shaw family, particularly Abeline’s younger brother known as El Stupido. Where as many screenwriters would punch down and portray conservative Texans as red neck, hillybilly types, Novak is able to poke fun at them while simultaneously respecting their way of life, family values and positive qualities. He even pokes fun at his own kind; pretentious, elitist New Yorkers who look down on people who don’t live in big, overcrowded cities. His balance of admiring and mocking both sides equally is to be applauded. The film comments on American cultural differences, the current podcast craze, true crime fascination, the opiod epidemic, shallow hookups that lead to a lack of purpose, etc. The pacing works well as the film is right around an hour and 45 minutes long which was perfect for the story being told. While only a couple jokes fall flat and there are one or two throwaway lines that didn’t work, this is overall a terrific debut for Novak. I am generally not a fan of directors forcing themselves into their own movies as an actor, but since Novak started acting for years before transitioning to director, his presence onscreen didn’t bother me as much as I thought it might. Definitely worth checking out in theaters or at home once it comes to streaming.

#TheBoxOffice / #IssaGreatDebut / #That70sRodeo / #ThePodcastHost / #TheStateUForgive / #Whataborder

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