Vengeance – Chicago Reader

Here’s a bit of local amusement park trivia that surfaces during Vengeance, director/writer/star BJ Novak’s (mostly) Texas-set, unclassifiable drama/comedy/thriller/murder mystery/philosophical rumination. The Six Flags amusement park franchise takes its name from the six nations that have claimed Texas: France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, US, and Dixie. Who knew the Gurnee home of the world’s oldest wooden roller coaster has a shout-out to secessionism in its very name? Or so we’re told in Novak’s directorial debut.

Vengeance continually upends expectations, sometimes with a pistol shot, sometimes with a quiet look, sometimes with a bit of dialogue that sounds like an aside at first but becomes more and more significant as the film continues.

Novak plays Ben Manalowitz, an insufferable New York writer who uses the emoji phrase “100 percent” the way some people use “like.” Ben doesn’t want to be a writer, he wants to be a “voice.” He is certain he has a podcast idea that will have a cultural impact bigger than the combined content of Ira Glass.

Ben’s podcast idea exploits the overdose death of a woman he hooked up with a few times. Before she OD’d on Oxy, Abilene (Lio Tipton) told her family Ben was the love of her life. Her brother Ty (Boyd Holbrook) insists Ben come to Texas for the funeral. Ben agrees when he realizes he can turn Abilene into “Dead White Girl,” a podcast commentary on mythmaking—both the myths we create about ourselves as individuals and as a nation.

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