DVD Review: Violet & Daisy

Published on February 7th, 2014 in: Comedy, Current Faves, DVD, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Feminism, Movie Reviews, Movies, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

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With more than 300 films screening in a ten-day time period, the Toronto International Film Festival makes time management a challenge. Rumor has it that some film critics will leave a screening after ten minutes if they’re not fully engaged. I’m going to bet that there were quite a few who walked out on Violet & Daisy at TIFF 2011. That would have been a big mistake.

True, the quirky, cutesy antics of two young assassins (Daisy turns 18 early on and Violet, for all her world-weariness, still looks babyfaced) come across as a bit precious throughout the first act. They play patty cake. They wear matching trench coats. They idolize a pop singer named Barbie Sunday and they grudgingly accept a job so they can afford to buy dresses from her new fashion collection. One can almost feel Quentin Tarantino leering off camera. But these are more than mere zany details. The ongoing thread of costumes and clothing seems like just a narrative device at first, but soon reveals something more profound.

I’m not sure precisely when Violet & Daisy starts to suck you in, but the humor helps. It’s laugh out loud funny quite often, even if you’re scratching your head while you’re chuckling. It’s also hard to beat the bizarre contradiction inherent in seeing two fresh-faced young women—Alexis Bledel as Violet and Saoirse Ronan as Daisy—dressed as nuns and wielding guns. Still, the dialogue sometimes feels stilted and artificial early on, even when uttered by the larger-than-life presence of James Gandolfini, who portrays their newest target.

Be patient. Just when you’re thinking that these characters are amusing even if you don’t particularly care about them, Violet & Daisy has already set its sights on you. Despite the Tarantino damage, it feels more like a particularly witty, female-centric caper film from the 1970s. Not Tarantino’s ’90s version of the ’70s, but the real deal.

One could argue that the feminist thrust of Violet & Daisy is weakened because it makes Gandolfini the catalyst for change, but that would devalue the underlying current of familial ties that binds the film together into something more cohesive than its eventual shift in tone would imply. For all their gum chewing and wisecracking, Violet and Daisy are wounded. They claim to be best friends but they each keep a big secret from the other and when the fissures in their facades start to show, it’s impossible not to be moved by the emotional denouement that ensues.

The gorgeous artifice at the beginning of Violet & Daisy is a perfect mirror for the world that the two young women have escaped into to avoid something else, a mirror that Violet herself quite symbolically smashes at one point in the film. We never find out exactly what happened to turn them towards a life of crime, but we definitely feel the weight of their struggles. Both Bledel and Ronan are exquisite in their roles. As for Gandolfini, we just miss him even more.

Writer/director Geoffrey S. Fletcher has crafted something special in Violet & Daisy: a film that’s self-aware and self-reflexive without being glib, one whose stylistic flourishes aren’t just window dressing, and whose compelling characters feel real, even while the situations they find themselves in may strain credulity.

Violet & Daisy was released on DVD from TVA Films on January 28.

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