The Movie Waffler SXSW 2021 Review - VIOLET | The Movie Waffler

SXSW 2021 Review - VIOLET

violet review
A Hollywood producer decides to ignore the negative voice in her head and take control of her life.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Justine Bateman

Starring: Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey, Justin Theroux, Dennis Boutsikaris, Simon Quarterman

violet poster

In movies, when a character hears voices in their head it usually means they're a serial killer, but in truth it's the voice in our head that stops most of us from becoming sociopaths – it's called a conscience. Some can be held back by that voice, not from murdering coeds but from merely following their dreams. But here's the rub – dreams are unattainable for most of us. Sure, we'd all like to tell our boss to go fuck himself, but there's the inconvenient problem of keeping a roof over our heads or feeding our kids.

violet review

Written and directed by Family Ties star Justine Bateman, Violet is blind to the realities that prevent most of us from following our dreams. Its protagonist is a successful Hollywood producer played by Olivia Munn. "If this wealthy woman who looks like a supermodel can follow her dreams, why can't you?" the film asks. It's Fight Club for readers of the Oprah endorsed self help scam 'The Secret'. As such, Violet plays like an adaptation of a self-help manual rather than a narrative feature film, with clear points where an instructor might pause the film and ask "What would you do in this moment?".

The film sees thirtysomething producer Violet (Munn) go through a series of scenarios in which she is crippled by self-doubt. She lets her underlings walk all over her. She can't stand up to her misogynistic boss. She can't profess her feelings to the hunky screenwriter (LOL) (Luke Bracey) she's fallen for. Her self-doubt is relayed in clunky fashion, verbalised by a voice in her head (Justin Theroux), while her desires are scrawled on screen in hand-writing. We also get quick cuts to stock footage of car crashes and rotting animal carcasses accompanied by screechy industrial noise. It all makes for an information overload and could easily be dispensed with if a little more faith was placed in Munn's performance.

violet review

Munn is the film's only real strength. In a career best performance, she's so good here that at times we forget how comparatively privileged and unrelatable Violet is to the vast majority of people who will watch this. We don’t need her thoughts to be literally spelled out on screen, as we can read her body language and facial expressions. But every few minutes we're reminded that Violet looks like Olivia Munn and is already living a life far beyond the reach of the average person. There are practically no stakes for Violet, no consequences for her refusal to listen to the voice in her head. She has a standing offer of a better job at a rival studio, so she can tell her Harvey-Weinstein-lite boss to shove it whenever she wants. She looks like Olivia Munn, so she can pull her handsome love interest aside at a party for a snog without fear of rejection. It's all too convenient that Violet decides to strike out on her own now that she's acquired such a degree of comfort and privilege. Had she done so a few years earlier, would she have made it this far?

The lack of showing rather than telling on Bateman's part means we're often forced to take Violet's word as gospel regarding her relationship with other characters. She talks about her mother being "not a nice person", something which brings her into conflict with the rest of her family. But all we know of Violet's mother is how Violet feels towards her. Maybe Violet's part of the problem here, or maybe both Violet and her Mom share the blame equally. It's suggested that Violet is willingly sleeping with powerful men to advance her career, a detail that seems at odds with the shrinking, err…Violet she's portrayed as. By the end of the movie you may well conclude that Violet's vulnerable charm is mostly courtesy of Munn's winsome appeal, and that maybe she's not as likeable as the movie would like us to believe.

violet review

There are some moments that suggest Violet might have worked as a '90s HBO show, and it often feels like a hodge-podge of Dream On, The Larry Sanders Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Sex and the City. We get the odd sharply written scene that suggests this is a world Bateman is familiar with (she's been working in Hollywood since her teens after all), but in presenting us with a protagonist whom most of us will envy from the off, Bateman seems tone deaf as to how the rest of us in that big old 99% really live.

 played online at the SXSW Film Festival 2021.

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