Film Review: Violet & Daisy

This smartly acted but over-directed and woozy hit-girl comedy, on the shelf since 2011, garners a few chuckles early on but swiftly plunges right off the rails.

Give Geoffrey Fletcher some credit at least for striking out into new territory with Violet & Daisy. Very few people would have expected the next project from the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Precious to be a surreal comedy about two young female assassins undergoing some self-examination issues. While his creative bravery is all well and good (Fletcher directed as well), the concept feels ultimately under-thought and more appropriate for a limited-run comic series or 20-minute short film. There’s just not enough there there.

Fletcher starts off strong, with a pair of teenage-looking girls staring despondently at a poster announcing the cancellation of a concert by their hero, Barbie Sunday. Violet (Alexis Bledel) and Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) go to work anyway. We next see them walking down the street carrying pizza boxes and dressed up as nuns. Chattering brightly, they knock on an apartment door. Once it’s opened, the two start blazing away with semi-automatic pistols. Several dead guys later, the two are revealed to be hit-girls-for-hire working for some never-seen crime boss who apparently needs people rubbed out just about every other day.

There’s an atmosphere of unreality coated over the film from the very beginning. From the blithe manner with which the girls mow down their targets (apparently they never miss, the police aren’t an issue, and those apartment walls are soundproofed) to the ironic oldies soundtrack, this is fairy-tale gangsterland that we’re in, halfway between Tarantino and Hanna. Fletcher heightens that disconnect with Violet and Daisy’s flat, affectless conversation that treats their job as no more momentous than folding shirts at the Gap. Ronan’s Daisy, the younger of the two and something of an apprentice to Violet, is even more of an innocent amidst all the firefights: “Vi says it beats data entry.”

The event that upends their perfectly encased world comes in the form of a hit on the mysterious Michael (James Gandolfini), a job they take on in order to buy some dresses from Barbie Sunday’s new fashion line. Finding him not home when they arrive, the two fall asleep on his couch. When they awake, they realize he’s covered them with a blanket instead of running or stealing their guns. Thus begins the process of humanizing one of their victims, who curiously doesn’t seem at all interested in escaping. Before long, Michael is baking them cookies and asking about their families.

The scenes set in Michael’s apartment, and the crisis of conscience it establishes for a suddenly unsure Violet and Daisy, take up much of the film’s second two-thirds and prove eventually a narrative dead end. Interestingly for a writer, Fletcher handles these sections much better as a director, pulling winsome work out of Bledel and Ronan and some superbly affecting scenes from an on-point Gandolfini (few actors can drape themselves so masterfully in world-weary despondency). But none of these performers can escape the unconvincing absurdity of the scenario, whose humor wears off fast, like cheap candy. By the time Marianne Jean-Baptiste shows up as Killer Number One—in a possible nod to the Cat in the Hat, Violet and Daisy are ranked as Killers Number Eight and Nine—the forced joviality and increasingly absurdist plot turns have worn out their welcome.