From its teaser poster, which brandished a pistol-shaped lollipop, to a shot of one of its hit girls pointing a gun at the camera while blowing bubblegum, Violet & Daisy is a twisted, spirited exercise in stark juxtaposition, a grindhouse fairy tale of sorts that pairs the sugary sweet with the nastily violent. The mix of contrasting elements is farcically deliberate, seeing its leading ladies, played by Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan, respectively, behave in a way that’s wholly antithetical to their careers as ruthless assassins. To begin with, the girls play patty-cake, their favored pastime, while their handler (Danny Trejo) gives them intel on their next job, and they flee the scenes of their crimes like cheeky schoolgirls who pulled the fire alarm. They also play hopscotch while the sound of a cocking pistol echoes in the background, aim carefully at a mark to avoid hitting his adorable pet bird, and gleefully engage in what they call “the internal bleeding dance,” which involves jumping on the bellies of their slain until blood comes out of the corpses’ mouths—like the grisly equivalent of squeezing a jelly donut.
For the most part, Geoffrey Fletcher, making his feature directorial debut after penning the script for Precious, successfully maintains the naughty-and-nice dichotomy, particularly when he isolates matters to the apartment of Michael (James Gandolfini), the gals’ newest target, who actually welcomes their arrival. Michael’s submissiveness introduces uncharted, morally complex territory for his guests, who use their fantastical outlooks to stay at a remove from their deeds, and whose only apparent motivator (apart from calling themselves “career women”) is to collect enough cash to buy couture dresses by Barbie Sunday, the pop star who’s the Ke$ha/Rihanna/Britney of their teeny-bop dreams.
Fletcher revels in testing the limits of his girly-girl-killers conceit, giving his leads a hollow aspiration they probably should have outgrown by now (Daisy just turned 18; Violet is older), and employing visual gags like lingering milk mustaches that come after a snack at Michael’s—impossibly white smears recalling those in the old “Got Milk?” campaign. For a brief spell, as they consider that Michael’s depression has him begging for the bullet, but want to keep him alive forever so they can enjoy his amazing oatmeal cookies, Violet and Daisy sound like Death Becomes Her’s Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn, who similarly dreamed of making Bruce Willis’s plastic surgeon immortal, so he could keep them in the gorgeous bliss of youth ’til the end of time. A more conscious influence, though, seems to be Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, which is evoked in everything from the breezy, pre-murder banter to a Barbie Sunday magazine, an item that, like a certain Kiss Me Deadly-inspired briefcase, emits a surreal glow.
The dialogue, too, has a notable QT ring to it, yet this is one film that feels more like an homage to the modern master than another interminable copycat. Fletcher may not have a grand directorial voice (there’s minimal distinction to his aesthetic), but he fills the mouths of his antiheroines with punchy, delicious language, providing monologues that are alternately hyper-articulate and blithely profound (both actresses are terrific, but Bledel, in all her pop-princess uncertainty, has never been better). What these girls say (about heaven, professionalism, etc.) grounds them far more than what they ultimately do, as Fletcher falls into the trap of abandoning his transgressive tone with an all’s-well-that-ends-well capper. It’s quickly clear that Michael, a deadbeat dad, and Daisy, rife with daddy issues, have a blossoming, surrogate father-daughter bond. But while that effectively complicates matters, it doesn’t warrant the tidy finale, which can’t even be saved by Daisy’s clever, one-fell-swoop maturation beyond murder and materialism. Too concerned with being an overly redemptive cautionary tale, this delicate balance of sour and sweet needed to end on a less saccharine note.