In 2010, Geoffrey Fletcher made history as the first African-American to win an Academy Award for writing when Precious: Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, won best adapted screenplay. But Fletcher’s debut feature takes a seriously different tack from the relentlessness of his previous work, with a different take on both hit-man and coming of age films, Violet & Daisy.
Best friends and hit-girls Violet (Alexis Bledel) and Daisy (Saiorse Ronan) lead an interesting, contradictory life. The girls scrape by as the eighth and ninth place, respectively, killers for their boss, who uses a go-between to assign the girls their jobs, which seem to vary in their levels of danger. Violet is the more experienced of the two, having been on the job long enough to have lost a partner and know how to handle herself in a firefight. Daisy has just turned 18, and works in her best friend’s shadow, as she maintains something resembling a typical teenager’s outlook. After successfully and bloodily extricating a target from a safe house, the girls are prepared for a well earned vacation, when a call comes in for a new job that would pay for two new dresses designed by their favorite pop star, Barbie Sunday. The two girls simply need to execute a man who’s brazenly been stealing from multiple gangs in the city. But the girls have an in, and the job should be a piece of cake. That is until their quarry, Michael (James Gandolfini) doesn’t exactly react the way the duo expect him to. While dealing with the new challenge offered by Michael, Violet must confront a violent incident from her past, and the friends also get to be honest with one another about what they’re going through.
Violet & Daisy tries to thread a difficult needle. Fletcher is presenting two young women who are either severely disturbed or who simply don’t grasp the gravity of their actions. It’s territory Ronan’s been down before, with her starring role in Hanna, and it shows. In the Joe Wright film, Ronan was a killing machine slowly becoming aware of the real world. Here, Daisy seems like some sort of fairy-tale creature transplanted into a violent urban setting. Ronan’s able to carry it off, even as she does seem transported from another world. Gandolfini does his usual brilliant job of slowly peeling back the layers on Michael’s life and his unusual reaction to the girls’ plans to kill him. Gandolfini seems almost out of place for such a small film, but few actors are better at bringing out subtle nuances, even in a largely gentle character, that might otherwise be missed. The story moves along briskly and naturally and the dialogue does a god job of expressing the way the two girls live in different head spaces. It’s also interesting that Fletcher seems to have such an interesting take on the nature of young female friendship, including the sisterly protectiveness Violet seems to feel for her partner that never seems to cross over into something beyond platonic love.
The older of the two actresses, Bledel’s task is probably more difficult, and while she does her best, and her performance is among the best she’s given since Rory Gilmore, there’s just something missing in either the character or the performance. Violet is the much more damaged of the two, but much of that damage is left unexplored. While the audience is given a more extended look into Daisy’s inner life during a long conversation with Gandolfini’s character, Violet isn’t given nearly the same treatment. Another character who’s revealed to have been watching over the girls for the entirety seems designed only to shoehorn in dramatic tension somewhat artificially, including one of the more unbelievable plot reveals in a movie this year.
Still, there’s more than enough to recommend in the performances of Gandolfini, Ronan and Bledel to paper over the concerns about the plotting. Fletcher knows how to make a story move, even as he has to connect some seemingly non-interlocking threads. He manages to create an interesting world, even if it would be nice to go a little bit deeper. Fletcher should be given another chance to bring his visions to life, as this is, at the very least, a promising debut.