2 Stars out of 4
Violet & Daisy proves what French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard once said is true: “all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.” Well, make it two girls and two guns. But Godard left out whether the movie would be good or not, and Violet & Daisy is not.
This is the directorial debut of Geoffrey Fletcher, who wrote the Oscar-winning script to 2009’s Precious: Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire. As a director, Fletcher begs to differ from the tedious, overexploited action genre that crashes down in the summer. His muse is yours truly, Quentin Tarantino, who took exploitation to new, uncharted levels in 1992 with Reservoir Dogs, a heist film with no heist.
Violet & Daisy wants to make its mentor proud. It’s all behaviour, flamboyance, and tongue-in-cheek dialogue – but it’s all bogged down in a sassy self-awareness. Nothing’s worse than watching a film that loves how quirky it is. Let’s face it though: we all love bravado. But so do we enjoy stories, and Violet & Daisy never knows what it is about, so all the bullet-time action to the pop of bubble gum just bursts in Fletcher’s face.
The film accordingly follows the experienced killer Violet (Sin City’s Alexis Bledel) and the unsullied thrill seeker Daisy (Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan). They are very sensitive towards their appearance and dress, so they go guns a blazing in style. These girls – the ultimate femme fatales – act like they came off the Gossip Girl set and rolled into Pulp Fiction, locked and loaded, and armed with bullets and makeup.
Yet I didn’t buy it. Fletcher makes a devastating error by relying too heavily on his audience to suspend its disbelief. I mean, I struggle to hold a straight face while gossip girls fill gangsters with holes and then, in the spurt of the moment, decide to play patty cake after. I know, I know. I’m just not playing fair. But I think of Joe Wright’s Hanna, also starring Ronan, that gave us more of a background towards the young killer’s training. Even Tarantino’s Kill Bill was kind enough to explain the bride’s past as an experienced assassin. It gives us some grounding, a touch of logic to cover the later implausibilities. Violet & Daisy expects its story to excuse its oddities and Fletcher isn’t up for the task.
The plot jumps through loops and loops of episodic moments that rely on panache. Violet and Daisy are assigned by their boss Russ (Danny Trejo, in this because he was Machete) to take out Michael (James Gandolfini), a man over his head in debt. What should be a neat and tidy job (aren’t they always?) Violet and Daisy stumble into the vulnerable feelings of youth when they discover Michael represents more friend than foe.
Now, this is not a bad set up. But the script, also by Fletcher, is written with too much “talking” and the performances littered with too much “acting”. Everything is so precious and playful, and so aware it is ready to punch its happy-go-lucky tone in the face. What this amounts to is dialogue and performances that are terribly arch and the film doesn’t bother throwing its audience into a matter-of-fact world. Everything in Violet & Daisy is so perkily fictional that it is hard to embrace the film as a different “experience”. It’s all a quasi-Tarantino act.
Violet & Daisy is divided in 9(A) chapters, which spins off how many killers consist of Violet and Daisy’s agency. There’s a brief entrance of killer no. 1 (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), but her character adds no momentum to the narrative. Accompanying that, other scenes keep jumping back in time to explain itself but only to indulge in an action scene that already loves how creative it is. Fletcher doesn’t know how to control time like Tarantino, so Violet & Daisy keeps stalling instead of moving forward and just sticking to a story that could have been heartwarming on the surface and deadly beneath (or vice-versa).
It comes to no surprise that the soundtrack is first-rate (the remix of Juice Newton’s “Angels of the Morning” is particularly memorable), because the movie’s jagged editing constitutes a purely visceral music video in itself. I won’t go praising the performances because they’ve already done that. Violet & Daisy isn’t a horrendous failure, it’s just a quirky indie project that needs guidance through its mainstream turbulence.
The movie leaves you cold by never threading a true emotional connection to the story. It just keeps you on the outside peeing in on its self-indulging moods. I grant Violet & Daisy for the riveting scene involving Violet’s dream. It’s one moment of pure surrealism that even shows a burning plane blistering in the background. A projection of Violet’s? Who knows. Too bad Fletcher is awfully busy burning his own bridges.
Written live at the Toronto International Film Festival.