Revenge review: BJ Novak debuts Razor-Sharp Podcast Noir

Tribeca: Equal parts “Under Silver Lake” and “This American Life,” B.J. Novak’s story of out-of-water fish finds big truths in the depths of Texas.


At the risk of inflicting damage on an impressively powerful appearance with faint praise, BJ Novak‘s “RevengePerhaps the best movie someone could make of a murder mystery begins with John Mayer standing on a rooftop in Soho House (his philosophical bashing about the absurdity of monogamy in a world so fractured that people are shrunk to mere concepts, like ‘Becky Gym’) or “Sarah Airplane Bathroom” or any of the actual names he assigned to the dozens of semi-anonymous women in his phone), but he doesn’t End With the musician dead in a hole somewhere.

In fact, Meyer never appeared again. It’s been long enough for you to assume the worst about what’s to come – oh, the other, else ‘Office’ man remade ‘swingers’ for Tinder group, and cast Someone once referred to his penis as being a white supremacist In the role of Vince Vaughn – and then retreats into the backdrop of a sinister, sharp-edged film that satirizes our impulse to judge in a society where unprecedented chaos has forced people to rely on the stability of trusting their convictions.

Whatever you think of Novak, or even if you don’t think of him at all, there’s no doubt he knows what he’s doing here. He knows it’s hard to find a rich and famous Harvard white guy who’s brazen enough to star in his first movie, just as he knows most people would suspect he made it on a whim rather than rip White his way. for consecutive years. And so he bent down to slip, taking advantage of the impossibility of his own project (along with the special allure of his on-screen character “Buster Keaton meets Ira Glass”) into a very funny movie powerful enough to lift the crushing weight of our worst assumptions about each other and shed Light on the regret that fester beneath.

And the How boy Does the sound of “revenge” sound unbearable? Once the movie reveals its insanely clever prequel – equal parts “Why God Has Forsaken Us?” and “Why didn’t I think of that?” You may find yourself desperate to get Mayer and “Dick David Duke” back and keep talking. Novak plays Ben Manalowitz, a pariah writer for the New Yorker who is so eager for a voice that he doesn’t really care what he says. Much like his close personal friend John Mayer, Ben sees other people as only concepts, and cannot commit to the idea of ​​a meaningful relationship with someone who has his own agency or point of view. I mean, how would this work?

Perhaps that’s why he only begins to focus on Abilene Shaw (Leo Tipton, their performance is limited to iPhone videos) after she suffers a fatal overdose in a Texas oil field, when he manages to get everything he wants out of her memory. In life, she was just a two-eyed singer chick, whom Ben half remembers having hooked up with several times. In Death, she’s the perfect topic for the black-haired “serial” podcast falling into Ben’s lap as Abby’s brother (cool Boyd Holbrook as Ty) calls him in the middle of the night and Novak’s mighty arms from millennial Millquite Brooklyn avocados fly into the heart of “No Country for Seniors” of men” Texas to attend the funeral.

For some reason, the pistol-loving, rodeo-loving Abby family thinks Ben was their boyfriend. For some reason, Tai believes his sister was murdered. And for some reason, Ben decides to help him get to the bottom of the matter.

What begins as an out-of-water fishing story about a New York Jew in #MAGAland, is full of broad character (Ty says Ben reminds him of Liam Neeson’s least-favorite revenge thriller, “Schindler’s List”) and sitcom-like and quickly gives way to misunderstandings (eg the embarrassing scene where Ben is forced to give an impromptu speech at Abby’s funeral) leads way to something more curious. The transition starts from the moment Ben starts recording his time in Texas, collecting the audio for the podcast he shows to his NPR producer friend or whatever that fantasy movie is called.

Eloise played Issa Rae, and she’s pretty good at her job persuading us that “Dead White Girl” is something that can actually make it air. “Not every white man needs a podcast,” she told Ben, but turning Abby’s death into content is the only way he can extract any meaning from it. So he vowed to find and identify the person who killed her. And what if you haven’t already killed? “I will find the responsible public community force, and I will identify it.”

Imagine “Under the Silver Lake” being reproduced as a crowd-pleasing clip from “This American Life” and you’ll have a rough idea of ​​how “Revenge” can turn out from there, as the unassuming narrator begins to look beneath the surface of our hopelessly divided country and see what behind his shadow for the first time in his life. The discoveries went both ways. Not only do the Shaw family defy Ben’s condescending expectations for such people, but hearing them talk – the tape recorder always on hand – opens his mind to things he never realized about his place in the world.

This proves doubly true in Ben’s conversations with local music producer Quentin Sellers (Ashton Kutcher is in full tech guru status), whose Marfa studio would seem cultured if not for how he clearly spoke about the fragmentation of our social fabric, and how even the smartest of people would They turn to myth once their civilization has relinquished any greater responsibility for collective truth. In some places, this means perpetuating conspiracies about the deep state and stolen elections. In other cases, it means drawing thematic links between disparate events and puncturing them with Mailchimp ads.

Of course, there’s no doubt about which group Novak is heading to here. “Revenge” is clearly made by and for the kind of “coastal elites” who have not been far from the Republican since the second act of “Hamilton”, an audience that often fascinates, sometimes condemns, and always talks about this movie in common. A common language. If Novak’s script requires too much effort to subvert our expectations of Southern characters, he usually does so by playing on them at the same time (a tactic enabled by the home-choice genius of Kentucky G., the “Succession” star that wraps her savage wits around the core of Unified Truth).

The results can be funny out loud even when schematic and vice versa. Case in point: The thing where Grandma Carol (naughty Luanne Stevens) gives a nasty look to Ben when he gets a notification from Raya, not because that’s Friday Night Lights who adores Whataburger extra Friday Night Lights no She knows what that is, but instead because she couldn’t believe some podcaster wannabe – “Joe Rogan Meets Seth Rogen” – she was allowed to sign up for the site. Abby’s little brother is a deranged owl named El Stupido (Elli Abrams Bickel) who sleeps with a loaded Glock instead of a stuffed animal, but he does it on the floor next to Abby’s bed because he’s a cute kid who’s afraid of ghosts even now that the sister is one. Abby’s sister, Kansas City (Duff Cameron) is a celebrity obsessed with TikTok and enthused about Ben’s relative power in the media world…and you see through his intentions in the podcast.


Focus Features

Then there’s Ty, the adorable character who could easily have been a Himbo in fewer hands. “Vengeance” is only able to get away with so much – and maybe kill? – Given how well Holbrooke has kept us guessing whether the story of Abby’s death is much simpler than it sounds or more complex. Even when jokes miss the mark or solving the central puzzle seems too easy, the “revenge” is maintained by asking what his characters mean to each other; A gently posed question but shrouded in an ever-increasing darkness that allows the film to wander into dangerous territory by the end, cinematographer Lynne Moncrieff gradually moves away from the gloss of a camera ready to stream until his images assume the grit of a new frontier town-noir.

If this slow acidity doesn’t feel the burn in the least, it’s probably because Texas has long been home to stories about people using each other’s memories for personal motivation. Remember the Alamo? But what is the use of each of us in a world so fragmented into separate realities that people can mean anything to anyone, and therefore nothing at all? A modern idea that “Vengeance” successfully explores in a very boiling context, Novak’s film is cohesive because of the unexpected overlap he finds between these two dimensions.

Nowhere is it smarter or more damning than the sequence where Ben interviews the various authorities who have gone beyond their responsibility in investigating Abe’s death, all of them (local cops, border police, highway cops, etc.) They are found in their jurisdiction. Everyone gets their turn, everyone has theirs, and by the time her case is brought up during the news cycle, it seems like no one cares about the victim at her center anymore. It’s just another season of “the series” waiting to happen. Unless Ben is able to write a better ending to Abby’s story – unless he is willing to find his own measure of truth in it.

Grade: B +

“Vengeance” premiered in 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. Focus Features will hit theaters Friday, July 29.

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