VENGEANCE*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
The film starts in a field where a party has taken place. Red cups and other trash are littered all over the area. Not far from there, in a field with no cell reception, the body of a young woman lies alone.
In New York City, journalist Ben Manalowitz (B.J. Novak) is hanging out at a party with John Mayer as they are checking out the women at the party. Ben then goes to talk to his producer Eloise (Issa Rae). He works on a podcast and is hoping to make his next big project a real American story.
Ben hooks up with a woman at his apartment. Later at night, he receives a phone call from someone named Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook). He tells Ben that his “girlfriend”/Ty’s sister Abilene (Lio Tipton) was found dead from an overdose. Ben is confused until he realizes Abilene, or “Abbi,” is a girl he hooked up with for a while. Ty tells Ben that the funeral is in a few days in Abilene, TX (where Abbi got her name).
Ben attends Abilene’s funeral and does his best to give a speech with what little he knows about her. Her whole family believed that the two of them were serious. Ben moves the Shaws to tears and later rides back with Ty. They stop in the middle of the road because Ty wants Ben to help him on a revenge mission, as Ty believes Abilene was murdered. The spot she was found is a place called “The Afterparty,” where many people are found overdosed, and Abilene was considered too much of a good girl to do drugs. Ben thinks it over and talks to Eloise, thinking he might have found his idea for a story in the form of a Texas murder mystery. She agrees, thinking that news about a dead white woman is already enough to attract attention.
Ty takes Ben home, where meets Abilene’s mother Sharon (J. Smith-Cameron), granny Carole (Louanne Stephens), sisters Paris (Isabella Amara) and Kansas City/K.C. (Dove Cameron), and little brother Mason/”El Stupido” (Elli Abrams Bickel). Ben learns that while the family doesn’t think much of their little Texas town, they still don’t allow outsiders to speak ill of it. Ben realizes he does not know much about Texas after mistakenly believing they won at The Alamo. He is invited to stay with the Shaws while investigating Abilene’s death. Ben stays in her room and looks over old texts between them, where he failed to listen to a song she recorded and sent to him.
Ben hangs out with Ty and records his encounters, which he plays for Eloise to incorporate into the podcast. He meets one of Ty’s eccentric friends and also interviews the Shaws, learning that they are big fans of Whataburger. K.C. also expresses a desire to be famous but isn’t sure for what. He goes with them to a rodeo, where he embarrasses himself by cheering for the University of Texas and condescending to the announcer.
Ben visits a recording studio that Abilene went to, as she was an aspiring singer. He meets record producer Quinten Sellers (Ashton Kutcher), who knew Abilene well and also gives Ben his own philosophical thoughts to record for his story. He also tries to talk to law enforcement officials in the area, but they are all either rivaling with one another or just offer no leads or useful info.
At the Shaw home, Ben gets close to Mason since he sleeps on the floor of Abilene’s room as he used to. He tells Ben, “I love you mucho”, which is something he shared with Abilene.
Ben goes with Ty and K.C. to a dance hall, where they spot Sancholo (Zach Villa), a local drug lord with ties to the cartel. Ty wants to confront him with guns, but Ben approaches Sancholo and is able to get a private interview with him. He regarded Abilene as a close friend as she was one of the few people who didn’t write him off as a thug, and he is devastated by her death.
Ben later gets a phone call from Eloise, who connects him to a producer that wants to air Ben’s story, which is called “Dead White Girl”. Ben is eager and wants to finish the podcast, but he gets injured when his Prius explodes. The Shaws pick him up at the hospital.
The family takes Ben to Whataburger for his first time. Things are going fine until Carole lets it slip that Abilene was a “pill popper”. The rest of the Shaws knew, and Ben gets angry that Ty led him on what he thinks is a wild goose chase for a killer when it was common knowledge to them all along that Abilene had a drug problem and most likely succumbed to her addiction. Ben snaps at the whole family, saying that they came up with a wild story because their lives are uninteresting. When he says Abilene was just another girl in his phone, Ty socks Ben in the gut. The rest of the family walks away from him, but Sharon offers him some pity.
Ben sleeps one more night at the Shaw house the night before he prepares to leave. He records one last piece where he believes he has not gotten the conclusion he wanted, and he regrets not loving more the way the Shaws loved Abilene. Before going to bed, he tells Mason, “I love you mucho,” to which he responds with “1435”, to shorten the phrase with the number of letters in each word. Ben realizes this is the passcode to Abilene’s phone, which he had been trying to unlock the whole time he was there. When he opens it, he finds messages between Abilene and someone she had saved in her phone as “Ben”, which is why her family thought Ben was her boyfriend. He then calls the number but gets no answer.
Ben has Mason use an ATV to ride out to the field where Abilene was partying. He finds two rednecks who admit to blowing up Ben’s car because of the University of Texas thing at the rodeo. Ben then sees Ty hanging out with Quinten, who takes Ben away with him to a tent. There, Quinten is seen pushing a lot of drugs, and a young woman sitting there overdoses before getting dragged out to The Afterparty. Ben learns that Quinten was Abilene’s “Ben” and had supplied her with the drugs that she OD’d on. She had messaged him for help, but he already knew she would not have cell reception after being dragged to that spot. Ben records Quinten’s confession, but he tells him it will merely be more exploitative fodder for his story in what is already just another tragic case of drug addiction. As the fireworks outside pop loud enough, Ben shoots and kills Quinten with Ty’s gun. Ben decides to delete all the files relating to his story, choosing not to exploit the Shaws’ tragedy. He then leaves and is seen whispering something to Ty (presumably confessing what he did), and Ty takes Ben and Mason to Whataburger.
The next day, Sharon takes Ben to the airport. He says he will now live with “no regrets,” to which Sharon says she never understood that phrase because she thinks regrets are what help us grow and live. Ben takes these words with him as he returns home.
Ben Manalowitz is a journalist looking for what he wants to be a real American story. He is brought to Texas where he finds out Abilene Shaw, a girl he was hooking up with, was found dead from an overdose, and her family believed Ben was her boyfriend. Ben is asked by Abilene's brother Ty to find a killer, as he finds it suspicious that a good girl like Abilene would be doing drugs.
Ben records his encounters as he gets to know Abilene's family, as well as the other aspects of Texas culture. Ben later finds out that Abilene really was a drug addict, and that she really may have simply overdosed, leading to him wasting his time over nothing. However, after unlocking Abilene's phone, he finds a new lead.
Ben learns that a record producer named Quinten Sellers was close to Abilene and gave her the drugs that she OD'd on, and had her body dragged out to an area with no cell reception to avoid it coming back to him. Although Ben records Quinten's confession, he tells Ben it will just be another true crime or drug addiction story told for exploitation purposes. Ben kills Quinten and deletes the story so he won't exploit the Shaws' tragedy. He returns home on good terms with the Shaws.