Texans love Whataburger. It’s just a fact, but it’s also something outsiders don’t always understand. Office’s BJ Novak discovered the hype while researching his new film Revenge.
The film stars Novak as Ben Manalowitz, an aspiring journalist and podcaster from New York City, who ends up in West Texas to attend the funeral of a girl he once hooked up with. His sweet and eccentric West Texas family thinks they had a more serious relationship and forces Ben to try to solve the case of what really happened to him, especially his brother Ty, who is played by Boyd Holbrook. They are convinced that she was murdered and Manalowitz is convinced that they were all wrong.
To prepare for the film, his directorial debut, Novak toured the state with Texas Monthly Christian Wallace to better understand the nuances of West Texas culture. With that, the film features scenes set inside a Whataburger as Novak’s character attempts to unravel what makes Texans who they are.
In one scene, Ben asks the family what they like about Whataburger, which Ty says, “Asking why you like Whataburger is like asking why you like Christmas.”
The scene dissolves into the family shouting at Ben that the main reason they love Whataburger is simply “because it’s right there!”
His character is not the only one to have liked it. Novak himself learned what makes the burger so special.
“It seemed like the big meeting place. … People loved Whataburger but couldn’t explain why. I thought it was a very interesting and fun dynamic,” Novak said.
Novak may have fallen in love.
“I like everything but the burger. I think the burger is okay,” he says. “But where it really comes alive is the late-night menu: the honey butter cookie, the shakes “, the Dr Pepper shakes and especially the fries. And that spicy ketchup is amazing. All the sauces are great. So for some reason the burger is the least of it.”
Spoken like a real Texan. While Whataburger’s love is evident in the portrayal of West Texas culture, it’s the conversations about that culture within the burger that helped shape the film.
“[It was] lots of warmth from the family dynamic, lots of beats to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and both being extremely welcoming to strangers. But also, you’re not a local unless you’ve lived there for five generations,” Novak said. “There were surprises around every corner, you know, like a grandfather who can take you on a set and then cry when he gives you his self-published book of poetry.”
Novak also covers more serious themes surrounding West Texas culture like conspiracy theories, which is a central plotline of the film. However Revenge certainly has comedic elements, Novak was careful to portray the Texans in a way that wasn’t at our expense.
“That was the most important thing to me. It was not only disrespectful but obvious to make a movie about making fun of something you’re not a part of, so I thought that was up to both fresher and more respectful to have my character diving in the same way I was diving and seeing,” Novak said. “Maybe my character comes in judging Texans as having these myths and conspiracy theories. … On the other hand, my character also lives in a world of myths, where he’s the smartest and he knows better than everyone else.