There’s an old adage warning writers that there are no original plots – Shakespeare did ‘em all. Of course, this in itself is a bit of a joke based on how much of the Bard’s output was inspired by previously published works, not to mention the whole debate over whether or not he actually wrote any of his own material or was simply the man who got the credit.
Obviously it’s up to a great writer to make even the oldest and most familiar storylines about love, death, revenge and all of the emotional shades in between seem new again. But with so much content released in so many different ways over the years, authors not only have to contend with stories that have been told a million times before but also with an audience that’s heard ‘em all before as well.
And unfortunately in the case of Precious screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher’s feature filmmaking debut as both writer and director, anything new that Violet & Daisy tries to serve up is bogged down by the weight of everything that came before it.
What feels like the cinematic emptying of a pop culture recycling bin, Fletcher dreams up an uneasy blend of fairy tales and graphic novels, using hardboiled pulp fiction from the ‘30s and ‘40s to bridge the two genres together and the result is as mind-boggling as you would expect.
The World of Henry Orient by way of The Professional (aka Leon), Fletcher’s introduces us to our two titular teenage assassins doing a Pulp Fiction style walk-and-talk before bringing down men twice their size in a hail of gunfire.
It aims for too-cool-for-school but ultimately leaves us cold, shivering at the emotionally detached celebration of style or substance without giving us any sense as to who the young women behind the bullets actually are and wondering if we’re watching something closer to surrealism or satire than a straightforward storyline.
Unfortunately, it’s a question that never really gets answered, as Fletcher hints at a great number of things and tries to incorporate too many big picture ideas about absentee-parentism, empty consumerism and celebrity worship than he can actually address in the guise of a hit-man (or hit girl) film throughout Violet's intriguing but ultimately unsuccessful eighty-eight minute running time.
Determined to complete their latest kill in order to purchase a signature dress by their favorite singer, the girls (played by Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan) are caught off guard when they interact with their mark (James Gandolfini) and begin to see him as a human rather than a hit.
Augmented by the performances of its leads, Violet is temporarily saved by the late great Gandolfini as a surprisingly friendly would-be victim, who not only seems eager to be assassinated but has made the girls cookies for precisely this occasion.
Though it isn’t too hard to guess why he’s glad death kindly stopped for him, Gandolfini makes the most of his character’s admittedly goofy actions, elevating the simple script with more tenderness than we’ve seen throughout, sublimating the disconnect he has with his own daughter into his final day with the fatherless gum-snapping, gun-toting lost girls that show up at his apartment.
Yet it’s the inauthentic, overly-cutesy characterization of the girls that baffles throughout, interrupting bursts of jarring ultra-violence including jumping on top of bullet-strewn bad guys by awkwardly infantilizing them with tricycle rides and pat-a-cake games that makes Violet & Daisy border on fetishistic camp.
Nowhere near as darkly cynical as Kick Ass to warrant the same level of controversy nor as good at blending quirk with coming-of-age angst as Ghost World – just to name two more films that enter your mind as you watch – though it strives very hard for originality, ultimately Violet feels as synthetic as a pop song sampled from past hits we know by heart.
While The Bling Ring did vapid consumerism among bored teens much better this year, perhaps the greatest tragedy of Violet & Daisy is that buried beneath all of the kitschy madness and self-conscious parody is enough of an idea to have generated a much better movie.
The only thing stopping Fletcher was Fletcher in paring down the script a few more times until he carved out a storyline that could have adequately supported one of his endless ideas… and perhaps a pop culture moratorium that lasted until Violet & Daisy transitioned from script to screen.
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