We can likely all agree that cinema today is generally lacking in terms of originality. For the most part, that's because the business side of things is also lacking in terms of its willingness to tell a story that is offbeat without also being easily categorized under the loathsome term "adorkable," or, certainly, its inability to support fresh, new talent with a distinct and original voice without then mining that voice for all its worth by attempting to merge it with an established, but flailing franchise, or generating buzz and/or cinematic legitimacy by hitching that rising star to a surefire success centered on an already established product.
Whenever a buzz-worthy voice emerges, he or she typically gets one on the studio's dime. And if said voice isn't particularly buzz-y, the alternative, then, is: You win an Academy Award and your next movie – whatever that may be – is typically given the green light. (Because nothing says easy sell like slapping "from the Academy Award-winning writer of…" on the poster and calling it good.) This is all part of an interesting give-and-take that has fueled most studios' risky (or risqué) art house fair longer than most people care to recall. And in all likelihood, it was the method of decision-making that led to Geoffrey Fletcher's directorial debut, 'Violet & Daisy.'
After winning the Academy Award for adapting 'Precious,' it was safe to say that Fletcher could have had his pick of whatever was in the Hollywood pipeline at the time. But rather than follow up with another bait-y film, Fletcher chose to get behind the camera with his original screenplay about a couple of preternaturally chatty teenage assassins (Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel, respectively) and their target, a depressed loner actually looking to get whacked (James Gandolfini), who inadvertently changes the girls' lives over the course of one long, drawn out afternoon.
In addition to the better than expected cast that includes Danny Trejo as the girls' handler, Russ, Gandolfini's 'Sopranos' co-star John Ventimiglia as a hit man for a rival outfit, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste in the film's most interesting and, therefore, smallest role as a venerated assassin named Iris, Fletcher fills his story with heaping helping of quirky, quippy dialogue that seems to be standard for characters who deal in death, in our post-'Pulp Fiction' cinematic landscape. To his credit, however, Fletcher also adds in some attractive dreamlike imagery to go along with the somewhat fantastical, vaguely allegorical tone that gives the film its distinctive tone and semblance of originality. But the thing is: All the originality in the world isn't going to do anyone any good if it isn't fixed to a cohesive, compelling, and complete storyline.
The trouble with 'Violet & Daisy' is also the trouble with so many other films of its ilk: It has a lot to say about existential things like life and death, and filling that life with purpose and meaning, but also friendship and love, and the particular dread that comes from being a parent – which is only matched by the particular dread that come from being someone's child – and so on and so forth. But having something to say is different from being able to apply meaning and weight to those words, which is the key ingredient that Fletcher's quirky little film ultimately lacks. The film's eponymous assassins endlessly wrap words around their general inaction, slathering scenes with the kind of elliptical interplay and phony irreverence, which alludes to some grander meaning or significance that simply isn't there.
The mostly overwrought dialogue will be familiar to fans of Bledel's principal TV effort, 'Gilmore Girls,' which saw the ageless blue-eyed beauty deliver lines with the same exactingly cheeky, machine-gun-like quality that earned the show its devoted followers. But, for the most part, there was meaning behind those words, and what's more, they occasionally led to the characters doing something interesting within the context of the storyline. Which is, again, something that 'Violet & Daisy' ultimately lacks.
What the film is not deficient in, however, are interesting, if somewhat muted performances from Gandolfini and Ronan. While Bledel is primarily doing her thing, delivering lines across the same pert spectrum, there's the slightest suggestion of a deeper, more resonant connection between her co-stars and their characters that actually plays a small part in the narrative. Gandolfini lends a certain legitimacy to his character and his persistent depressed state of mind that feels determined to rise above the simulated sentiment of Fletcher's script and grant the proceedings something that feels genuine. For her part, Ronan starts out on the opposite side of things; deftly playing up Daisy's ultra-fabricated essence to create a peculiar characterization of a young woman who is no longer just going through the motions of becoming her own person.
That sense of fabrication, consumerism and artificiality is clearly the driving force behind Fletcher's vision but it ultimately works against every aspect of the film, leaving it feeling hollow and, what's worse, totally rudderless. There's a clever idea somewhere in 'Violet & Daisy' that was sadly buried under an aimless, go-nowhere plot and dialogue that cared more about how it sounded than whether or not it actually had something to say.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Violet & Daisy' comes as a 25GB Blu-ray + DVD combo pack in the standard two-disc keepcase. In addition to the discs, there is a double-sided insert with a short note from the director in which Fletcher thanks his crew and pays tribute to the late James Gandolfini.
'Violet & Daisy' was given a very sharp, clean image from its 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer that looks quite nice throughout, but has a few flashes of brilliance that help tell Fletcher's story in a visual way that the dialogue simply could not achieve. For the most part, fine detail is present everywhere, but it is highly noticeable during close-ups – which do a terrific job of revealing individual aspects in skin tones, complexion and things like facial hair or (thankfully in some cases) a complete lack thereof.
Contrast is generally very high, with deep dark blacks that remain consistent throughout and help give the overall image a great sense of depth. Gradation is not much of an issue, as the film primarily takes place indoors, but there are a few instances where a change in lighting could have resulted in a different look, but the image manages to deliver the same high-quality picture again and again. There are a few instances where the image might be considered a tad soft, but it's generally gone in a flash and besides, the moments when the picture needs to look its absolute best is when the disc really delivers.
In the end, this is a film that relies a great deal on the very specific look and feel that is generated from its visual component, and aside from a few small inconsistencies, the disc looks great.
As you might imagine, the world of teenaged assassins is one that can be as filled with the incessant clatter of gunfire as it is the young women's unremitting chatter. That being said, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does a very nice job handling both early on.
First and foremost, dialogue is clear and easily heard. The actors all speak across a wide spectrum and some, like Gandolfini, have a very distinct intonation to their voice. Thankfully, the mix here is capable of handling all of it, and delivering the diverse sounds in such a way that they are easily understood and don't sound like they were looped after the fact. On the other hand, gunfire is clear and resonant early on, but it tends to weaken as the film plods along. What was initially a strong and intimidating sound eventually is reduced to a light clap. Now whether this was a deliberate part of the sound design, or something that happened while the mix was being created is unclear. It's not necessarily a deal breaker, but the difference is somewhat noticeable initially, even though you eventually get used to it.
Overall, despite some irregularities in the way things sound, this is a strong audio mix that does what it needs to do without getting too flashy about things.
Perhaps had Fletcher tied his story to something a little less tired than the hit man (or woman, in this case) subgenre, he might have had more success with the film. Then again, had the movie's dialogue been far less overwrought, and had it led to something of actual import, then perhaps 'Violet & Daisy' would have felt like an important piece of cinema from a rising talent. As it is, the movie simply took too many turns down an overindulgent road, when a simpler, more coherent one would have sufficed. Still, with a great image and decent sound, this one could be worth it for the adventurous few with nothing else to rent.