There was a point in the mid-to-late 1990s when a bunch of lesser filmmakers tried to make movies like Quentin Tarantino. It was the style of Tarantino — the pop-culture savvy, the soul music, the violence, the coolness, the ironic detachment — without any of the understanding of what Tarantino was actually doing. I liken it to kids putting on glasses and thinking they’re clever just because of the stupid glasses.
Violet & Daisy fits right into that Tarantino-wannabe milieu, though it also borrows a lot from The Professional and those early, energetic films of Robert Rodriguez. It’s 14 years late to the 90s, however, which makes the entire movie especially inept. Violet & Daisy is one of those special films that annoyed me to no end because it thinks it’s so clever and seems to pat itself on the back the entire time. An unlikable smugness just plain pervades the entire film.
Violet & Daisy
Director: Geoffrey Fletcher
Release Date: June 7, 2013
The key thing about all of the Tarantino rip-offs is that they were playing it safe. That’s the comfort of being derivative: you don’t have to risk anything because the person you’re copying did all the innovation for you. With a rip-off, you’re not just bowling with bumpers in the gutter, you’re bowling with a tube slide for the ball that’s the length of the lane. Each punctuation of violence, each choice on the soundtrack, each pop culture reference is already rendered accessible. Risk — which is the key to any successful and innovative work — would come from taking your own chances rather than taking the chances that someone else has already taken. (There’s a difference between Donald Barthelme’s postmodern genre pastiches and Boondock Saints, for instance.)
Movies that don’t risk can still be entertaining, but Violet & Daisy is not one of these movies, and a lot of it has to do with that awful smugness I mentioned above. Violet (Alexis Bledel) is a seasoned hired gun with a new partner named Daisy (Saoirse Ronan). They do hits for Russ, played by Danny Trejo, who shows up briefly and then hits the ejector seat on this movie. Their first on-screen hit together involves dressing up as nuns from a Catholic-themed pizza place (ooh, how drole) and then totally smoking guys with a gun in each hand like it’s a John Woo movie (ooh, how edgy). Their next job together is to kill Michael played by James Gandolfini, a lonely middle-aged man with an estranged daughter (ooh, how sad).
Violet & Daisy wants its audience to make those “ooh” comments because the film only exists as a collection of references, bits, and familiar pieces. There’s a moment of fantasy and hallucination during the film in which Violet sees Daisy as some sort of spectral airline stewardess standing over the wreck of a plane. It looks good, it’s stylish, but it’s so incredibly empty because the movie made me feel nothing (other than contempt) the entire time. Same goes for the oversized moon that takes up most of the sky in certain night shots. It’s style for style’s sake and nothing more. And yet for some it’s enough. When confronted with superficial things that are otherwise successful, “ooh” is the reaction. “Ooh” shouldn’t be sufficient.
Violet & Daisy seems to want to have things both ways: it wants the ironic, ultra-cool posturing of hip 90s movies, but it also wants an emotional weight that shines through the irony. Since the film lacks real emotional substance, it tries to use treacly sentimentality instead. Michael’s loneliness and isolation is meant to engender “awws” of sympathy, but it’s a manipulative ploy, one that’s as transparent as the film’s implication of a rape. And amid this fumbling manipulation, the movie gets cutesy. Michael serves his killers milk and cookies, Violet and Daisy get obsessed with some nebulous Barbie fashion thing, and there are games of pat-a-cake because… Well, I don’t know. Probably to make the audience ooze more vowel sounds rather than think about what they’re actually watching, which doesn’t amount to much.
And that’s just the stuff off the top of my head, and much of it is tonal. I haven’t even touched the flimsy story of the film. There are some gaping plot holes in Violet & Daisy, particularly when Daisy makes a series of confessions to Michael about her own life. What she reveals undoes lots of the movie.
This all made me wonder about the machinery of the film’s world and the clockwork in the hearts of its characters. Sometimes Violet & Daisy operates like it’s a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and other times like it’s a shaky melodrama. I think a sense of inconsistency that reveals a deeper consistency is the source of good drama and comedy in oddball storytelling, but here the inconsistency reveals a lack of care or a total lack of consideration. Things happen just because, and not because of something deeper.
It’s surprising that this film is written and directed by Geoffrey Fletcher, who won an Oscar for adapting Precious to the big screen. It’s most surprising because the dialogue, though rapid fire, says nothing; words, words, words, but all verbal blanks. When characters in Tarantino movies make small talk, they do it to talk around something else that matters, and they do it with the stylishness of Elmore Leonard. In Violet & Daisy, people talk in clipped sentences and they don’t talk about much of anything. Think of witty exchanges but bled of the wit.
But it makes sense because maybe sheer velocity of language will distract from the sheer emptiness of the language. It’s all of a piece. Violet & Daisy is a movie that wants to reduce audience reactions to a series of vowel sounds because in terms of style and substance, there’s really nothing to talk about.
Ooh, what a waste of time.