Film Review – Violet & Daisy
A lot of films are built on just a clever premise; sometimes a great story is written around it, sometimes it never really develops into anything more. Violet & Daisy, the feature debut from director Geoffrey Fletcher, exists somewhere between the two extremes as it tells the story of two teen hitwomen.
There is definitely something engaging about the juxtaposition of a naïve young girl and a dangerous profession like being an assassin. As strange as it sounds, this is a trope that has a solid history in Hollywood. It’s one of the primary reasons that Chloë Moretz was such a hit in Kick-Ass and Natalie Portman was such a knockout in The Professional (pardon the puns). Two dramatically different approaches to the same concept (one very comedic, one very dramatic), and yet both were equally successful. Violet & Daisy doesn’t quite touch either of those movies, because it can’t decide if it wants to be a drama or a comedy.
There are high expectations for this film because not only did Fletcher direct it, but it is his follow-up script to his Academy Award-winning work as the screenwriter on Precious. Certainly there is a difference between the two projects in that Precious was based on a novel and this is an original concept, but Violet & Daisy doesn’t feel anywhere near as thoroughly deep or complex of a story. It is hard to compare them other than to say both films are about young women, and it is awesome to see strong female characters, but I wish he had spent as much time developing Violet and Daisy as he does the universe they exist in. Fletcher certainly has potential as a director, with an imaginative visual style; I just wish he had spent a bit more time on writing before getting there.
Violet & Daisy has a very strong base to build from with actresses Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel starring as the pair of assassins. Their job is largely a means to let them have money to spend on their favorite celebrity, Barbie Sunday—going to her shows…buying her clothes…basically doing things that teen girls do. Fletcher does a good job of creating the vibe of teen girls, but there is essentially no time spent on the characters’ backstories, which is probably the most interesting aspect of the concept. How did these girls become assassins? There is a distinct Charlie’s Angels feel as the girls work for a mysterious boss who never appears on screen, and a subplot featuring Marianne Jean-Baptiste touches on the organization they work for, but essentially reveals nothing about it. It adds very little to the story, just filler material.
It is funny to see Ronan and Bledel paired up, because while Ronan is actually still a teenager, Bledel is more than a decade her senior, while still appearing very young. (This is something I like to call the Stacey Dash effect, for her role in Clueless.) Despite Bledel having a much longer career, Ronan is clearly the stand-out talent between the two. This might be partially because of the writing, as all of Bledel’s character development feels a bit tacked on after the fact, but I’ve long felt Bledel tends to a bit unremarkable with her work, outside of Gilmore Girls. She makes her character feel like a caricature of what you would imagine the hitwoman premise to be like, while Ronan makes the part into a real person. The subtlety that Ronan brings, including her non-verbal communication, particularly through her eyes, adds as much to the movie as any of her dialogue.
The real surprise of the film was James Gandolfini as their hit. A man who has cultivated a career largely based on playing tough criminals plays a sensitive man with a mystery agenda. He is so unlike his Sopranos character that it reminds you how versatile the man really is. The character’s relationship with the girls, and in particular Saoirse Ronan’s Daisy, is clearly the best part of the movie. It adds a lot more depth to a film that otherwise feels like a bit of a knock-off of movies like Trains, Planes and Automobiles, where a series of events keeps interrupting our characters, keeping them from reaching their destination. He definitely has the most engaging and deep character arc, and keeps the film from just being a series of clichés and cute ideas.
It is unfortunate that the film never really establishes itself as more than a gimmick. It exists in the space between two genres, but never really delivering on the promise of either, nor creating something unique and refreshing. It isn’t particular dramatic, it isn’t particular funny, it isn’t particularly heartfelt, it isn’t particularly bad…it just feels like 88 minutes of time filler. You probably won’t be upset that you spent your time watching it, but you probably won’t feel the need to share it via word of mouth.
Final Grade: C+