An excerpt from my script review for Vengeance which will be available 08/15/22:
2.) Plot Stability
Carrying through on that Michael Scott/Ryan Howard love child idea…
Remember those early episodes of The Office that can really only be described as “cringe”?
There was a lot of that in this script.
Ben was both painfully awkward and selfish, qualities from both characters he’d written for in the past.
At the heart and soul of the project, I believe Novak was going for a sincere message, but it got lost in the scenes that were supposed to be setups to jokes that may not pay off.
The initial premise was pretty good.
Ben finds out his “girlfriend” (Abby) dies in rural Texas, but can’t remember who exactly she is because he’s dating multiple girls at one time.
The family coerces him into attending the funeral, which is awkward in a good way, forcing him to feel guilty, finding out what a special lady she is.
But being greedy, Ben will obviously humor her brother and family in finding out if Abby was murdered, because…hey…he wants to be rich and famous on…NPR?
(Let’s be crystal clear, This American Life is no Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me or the vastly superior Radiolab, which can take the most random topics and make them overwhelmingly engaging…like “made it home and just sitting in the garage to listen” kind of engaging.)
Okay, so the above bit makes for an interesting “catalyst” forcing Ben to go to Texas for two weeks, but once down there…
It’s painful stereotypes and stereotypical situations of “Red America” written by the more stereotypes that side thinks encompasses all of “Blue America”.
I get it, we’re a divided nation, and somewhere deep inside Novak is trying to make a statement about it, but this ain’t the right one.
Awkward situation after awkward situation (like Ben at the shooting range with the sombrero and afro targets or the whole rodeo scene), and it was hard to read, because you felt bad knowing you could predict what these “southern characters” were going to do and say next.
And then, of course, the dark moment will be when Ben calls out the Shaw family for being Texas hicks, exposing the true nature of his investigation so he can later be redeemed.
Only it falls flat.
Does he later admit he’s wrong? Of course he does, because his character arc is a paint-by-numbers setup, it just doesn’t do anything to bridge the gap that exists in this nation, a serious problem that will eventually need to be remedied.
And the ending?
Meh. I guess it’s sort of full circle, doing what he had to do to avenge Abby, but it wasn’t in a gripping or entertaining way like the two films I mentioned in the opening of this review.
Ben goes against his nature and does the exact opposite of what he’s done the rest of the story because…character arc.
Not to mention he’s suddenly a dead shot with a pistol.
The whole script just felt rather….self-indulgent.
(But maybe I’m just sour he kept interrupting Conan on his podcast.)
There were a few twists I enjoyed.
The main suspect, Sancholo, the drug dealer, turns out to be a gay guy that didn’t call Abby all through high school because he was into her, but because she would read him Harry Potter, something his mother didn’t allow.
Abby was also supportive of his true self, which he kept hidden from everyone else in town.
This threw a wrench in the works, and at the very least, gave Ben more to do to bump up the page length.
The other twist comes during the “dark moment” where it turns out Abby was actually using, a fact people kept leading Ben to believe to the contrary with their “wouldn’t touch Advil” line we’re consistently beaten over the head with.
(Sadly this one didn’t add much other than act as an intro to his nasty, condescending diatribe directed at the family.)
Lastly, it turns out Abby was using “Ben” as a contact in her phone to hide her relationship with Q. Sellers. The family wasn’t supportive of it, so she built Ben up to be this great guy, while secretly thinking he was a complete douchebag.
If anything came close to a truly redeeming moment, it may have been this, but let’s be honest, we all knew he wasn’t going back to New York before making nice with the Shaw family.
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