Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tone conquers all in Geoffrey Fletcher's lighter-than-air hat trick, VIOLET & DAISY

TrustMovies is hazarding a guess here, but he'd say that in the annals of "filmdom" (especially film-dumb) there is little that's more difficult to manage than a movie about perky, adorable teen-age girls who earn their keep as paid assassins. Not that we've had all that many examples of this, of course. But movies featuring heroes and/or heroines with occupations generally loathed by society have some trouble reaching mainstream audiences. (This helps account for the fact that Arbitrage, extremely well-done and with an award-worthy performance from Richard Gere, did so little business theatrically: "Don't you dare make me sympathize with or understand a character like that!")

All of which brings us to the latest in a lengthy-though-very-irregularly-seen line of anti-hero movies, VIOLET & DAISY, that marks the film-making debut of Geoffrey Fletcher (who earlier adapted the screenplay for Preciouswon an Oscar for his trouble, and here both writes and directs from his own original screenplay). Wisely, I think, Fletcher has set his tale of these kiddie killers in the slightly distant future, when humanity has given over almost entirely to "celebrity-hood," thus renouncing much of what makes it human. This helps somewhat bridge that large gap between watching horrendous deeds urfurl and having sympathy for the characters who are carrying them out.

What helps most in this regard, however, is the movie's tone. Mr. Fletcher has found a near-perfect one for the story at hand, and he has coupled it to performances that in all cases are spot-on in achieving an amazing balancing act. A little too much sweetness/cuteness (or conversely something so ugly that an audience cannot bear it) and everything can suddenly curdle. No worries: the filmmaker delivers delicious, sweet cream.

From one of his first images (above, of pizza-delivering nuns), we're in the la-la-land of someone with a fertile and charming imagination. Fletcher brings this imagination to bear upon just about everyone and everything in the film, which goes a long way toward making it not just palatable but damned enjoyable, too.

One wonders how the filmmaker got his cast on track with that special kind of performance that goes quite far but never over-the-top, offers up major cliches that manage not to bore us,  put its tongue in its cheek and still seems pretty real. It's an amazement, yet everyone -- smallest role to large -- comes through.

"Everyone" would include the two adorable leads, Alexis Bledel (the brunettes in the photos above) and Saoirse Ronan (the blond). Ms Ronan (of Hanna fame and lots else) has had some experience playing an assassin, but this is a first for Ms Bledel. Both young ladies take to it like killer pros. They're cute as buttons and utterly believable, too: alternately delighted, sad, frightened and surprised.

The object of their surprise is played by the wonderful James Gandolfini, who is -- surprise! -- wonderful again here, too. The movie is mostly a pas de trois between these characters, and no one misses a beat nor a step. They play so well together that you may want to see the film a second time simply to watch some terrific, moment-to-moment acting.

Also in the cast, and one of our favorite actors, is John Ventimiglia (above) as the head bad guy. He's as good as always, and his fine use of deadpan (and later just dead) helps the movie easily gloss over the bloody parts. (Ah, the internal-bleeding dance!) Fletcher's ability to give us these in bright red, while making us laugh at the same time, shows expert comic ability -- culminating in a bathtub full of corpses (below, and I think that's Ventimiglia, the second body down) that makes for a memorably goofy/ghastly image. There's a very funny little shower scene, as well (shown two photos below).

When it's time to forego the comedy and get more serious, Fletcher handles this expertly, too: lightly and without undo tear-jerking. He keeps his movie levitating in style, which he proves a natural at, and lets his ace cast members do the heavy lifting -- which they in turn make seem like an afternoon at Cirque du Soleil.

This kind of souffle is not easy to prepare, but Fletcher never lets the air out of his concoction. Violet & Daisy in an original, done with great style, feeling, strangeness and joy. Isn't it amazing -- all the ways in this world that you can find your family?

The movie, from Cinedigm and running just 88 minutes, opens this Friday, June 7, in 15 cities across the country. Consult the poster above for currently scheduled playdates.

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