Vengeance Film Review 2022: B.J. Novak

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Vengeance: A Murder Mystery Comedy with Deeper Social Commentary

Vengeance, the feature directorial debut of The Office star B.J. Novak, is a murder mystery comedy that goes beyond its initial marketing pitch. Novak proves that he has more than just laughs on his mind with this astute observation of modern American society. While most may see him solely as a “funny guy,” Vengeance showcases Novak’s ability to tackle complex themes, starting with a simple premise and gradually exploring into weightier meditations on truth in a divided America. This thought-provoking film lingers with the audience, leaving a lasting impact long after the credits roll.

A Darkly Amusing Setup

The story begins when Ben Manalowitz (played by Novak himself), a journalist and podcaster from New York City, is unexpectedly called to attend the funeral of a girl he once had a casual encounter with named Abilene. To his surprise, Abilene’s family believes that they were actually a couple. The initial setup may be morbidly amusing, but the plot takes a wild turn when Abilene’s hillbilly brother, Ty, played by Boyd Holbrook, convinces Ben that Abilene was murdered. Seeking justice, Ty seeks Ben’s help in seeking vengeance for her passing.

A Podcast Leads to Deeper Social Commentary

Intrigued by the opportunity for a compelling podcast centered around a grieving family and a potential conspiracy, Ben agrees to assist Ty. However, as he spends more time with Abilene’s family, including her matriarchal mother Sharon, portrayed by J. Smith-Cameron, and the outspoken grandmother Carole, played by Louanne Stephens, Ben realizes that there is more depth to this situation than he initially assumed. He begins to question his own biases towards “red staters” and reflects on how blame is often externalized instead of accepting individual responsibility.

A Murder Mystery Unveiling Ugly Truths About America

Vengeance poses numerous questions throughout its narrative, intentionally avoiding easy answers. While the plot gradually unravels the mystery surrounding Abilene’s death, the film’s focus shifts from the “who?” and “what?” to the more important “why?” This emphasis on understanding motivations and consequences adds a deeper layer to what initially appears as a straightforward murder mystery.

B.J. Novak skillfully uses this story as a lens to shed light on the unacknowledged truths and faults of modern America. The film navigates the complex social discourse of the 21st century, challenging viewers to examine their own biases and contributions to the current state of society. Novak avoids taking sides and instead presents a broader analysis of American culture, leaving it up to the audience to reflect on their own role in shaping the country and how to move forward.

An Unsettling Finale and Individual Responsibility

The film’s conclusion, without giving away spoilers, delivers a dark and damning climax that forces viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about their own actions and the consequences of societal discourse. Novak’s screenplay exposes the ways in which individuals contribute to America’s current divisive state, highlighting the challenges of finding a way out. While the film’s visual style may appear unremarkable, the thematic density and thought-provoking nature of Novak’s writing more than compensate for any visual shortcomings.

An Exceptional Ensemble Cast

Vengeance boasts a talented ensemble cast that breathes life into the complex characters. Novak himself shines as the lead, effortlessly blending comedy with the gravitas necessary for the movie’s morally murky conclusion. J. Smith Cameron delivers a compelling performance as Abilene’s distraught yet occasionally amusing mother, while Louanne Stephens charms as the ditzy grandmother. Boyd Holbrook strikes the right balance between Texas grit and charisma as Ty, captivating the audience with his portrayal. Ashton Kutcher, though with limited screen time, leaves a significant impression, and Issa Rae adds joy to the film with her captivating presence.

A Sterling Script and Intellectual Transcendence

Ultimately, it is Novak’s exceptional screenplay that elevates Vengeance beyond expectations. In the hands of another director, the concept could have easily become preposterous or preachy, but Novak’s skillful storytelling prevents such pitfalls. The authentic emotional impact and intellectual depth of the film make it an unforgettable experience.


Vengeance is far more than a murder mystery comedy. B.J. Novak’s directorial debut explores the complexities of modern American society, challenging viewers to reflect on their own biases and contributions to societal divisions. With its thought-provoking themes, exceptional ensemble cast, and a screenplay that tackles difficult truths, Vengeance leaves a lasting impression. Prepare to be captivated by the intricate storytelling and moral introspection that this film offers.


1. Where can I watch Vengeance?

Vengeance is set to be released in theaters across the United States on July 29, 2022.

2. Does Vengeance have a specific target audience?

While Vengeance can be enjoyed by a wide range of viewers, its complex themes and social commentary make it particularly engaging for those seeking thought-provoking films that go beyond conventional genres.

3. Is Vengeance purely a comedy or does it have serious undertones?

Although Vengeance is marketed as a murder mystery comedy, it delves into weightier matters, offering astute social observations and challenging viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about contemporary American society.

4. Can Vengeance be considered as a satirical critique of American culture?

Yes, Vengeance holds up a mirror to modern American culture, exploring the divides and biases that exist within society. By refraining from taking a specific stance, the film encourages self-reflection and critical examination of one’s own role in shaping the country’s current state.

5. How does Vengeance stand out among other murder mystery films?

While many murder mystery films focus solely on solving the crime, Vengeance transcends the genre by offering a deeper examination of societal issues and individual responsibility. Its ability to blend comedy with social commentary sets it apart, providing a unique and thought-provoking viewing experience.