The laughter is unsure and members of the audience begin to groan and shield their eyes. The eponymous, sugar-sweet assassins of Geoffrey Fletcher’s directorial debut, Violet & Daisy (2011), take down another swarm of hoods in a heart attack of gunfire. They celebrate with an apparent ritual: the “internal bleeding dance,” stomping on the pile of corpses from their latest kill. Fletcher cuts between gurgles of blood from the dance floor to the bright, porcelain faces of Violet and Daisy, giggling like children hopping on their parents’ bed. The scene is one of several unsettling images in the film, beginning an uncomfortable rift between a fantasy of violence and a messy emotional center.
A follow-up to his Oscar-winning adaptation of Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, Fletcher’s story plays like a comic book parable, if only for its utter weirdness: two willowy teenage executioners accept one last mission. They were ready to retire, but need money for new dresses. Details of time and place are unstated, though it is clearly some version of contemporary America. Along with Violet’s fallen partner, Rose, the girls are named for the fauna of a world that looks familiar, but feels distant.
In the respective title roles, Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan weave between exaggerations of stock characters: plastic prom queen, hardened criminal, lost toddler, fast-talking dame. The girls’ dialogue is without any specific era and slightly off-key, darting from “swell” to “biatch” to wizened idioms about life in a harsh world. Violet and Daisy are displaced youth and weather-beaten adults; they’ve grown up both too fast and not at all.
The film’s awkward division between age and innocence is underlined by Violet and Daisy’s ability to transform from little girls lost into impenetrable action superstars. The intended hit, Michael (James Gandolfini) is grounded in his character’s wounds, welcoming his fate without fear or resistance. Their victim’s tenderness disarms the girls, making them conscious of a gap between their hearts and the characters they inhabit. Like shell-shocked soliders, they encounter their own flood of memories as they unpack Michael’s grief. The film grows uneven when Violet and Daisy unhand their weapons in the film’s second act, disturbing our desire to just watch them kill.
In her 2010 review of Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, Manohla Dargis argues that casting 11-year-old Chloe Moretz as the foul-mouthed, homicidal Hit-Girl raised “the issue of agency or maybe lack thereof,” and “set off alarms about the uses and abuses of child performers.” In the same review, however, Dargis hails Moretz’s performance as “by far the best thing about the film.” Similarly, A.O. Scott identified a 2011 trend of “female rage,” including Sucker Punch, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Hanna (also starring Saoirse Ronan as a juvenile soldier). Scott reads these images as products of a “deep anxiety – an unstable compound of confusion, fascination, panic and denial – about female sexuality, especially the sexual power and vulnerability of girls and young women.”
The violence in Violet & Daisy provides a similar guilt and pleasure. Fletcher borrows heavily from the postmodern cool of a Tarantino fight sequence, bringing samurai precision to an ordinary world. Every gunshot in Violet & Daisy is underscored by a vintage pop song that soars and sneers, setting the carnage to an ironic wink.
We’re meant to be dazzled by Violet and Daisy as killers. They appear invincible with guns in their hands. Through Michael’s influence, however, Fletcher shakes the girls and his audience from this construction of a sexy thrill ride. Kick-Ass and Kill Bill treat violence as a slick world order. Fletcher offers his characters an exit. The violence starts to feel like a choice. When Michael asks Violet about her parents, Alexis Bledel’s face seems to slam every door shut in response. “What a random question,” Violet answers—a pain in her eyes that says her past is not only irrelevant, but a frightening weakness.
As in Precious, Fletcher explores the moment fantasy collides with reality, casting two more young females out to sea to determine their fate. Pitting Violet and Daisy against wave after wave of hostile older men, Fletcher sets another generation of children with adult problems against anyone old enough to know better. Pitting moments of high adrenaline against moments of doubt, the audience becomes complicit in the vicious cycle in which these girls are stuck.
But while Precious felt like a hyper-realistic plight of American culture revealed, the meaning of Fletcher’s accusation in Violet & Daisy remains somewhat murky. Do Violet and Daisy represent a broken generation? A generation of females? Are the hoods the generation of fathers that raised them? Or didn’t? Like Precious, Violet & Daisy understands the queasy implications of the world it presents. Again, Fletcher is eager to hold someone responsible for some unwieldy social force and its effect on Violets and Daisys. But because the story is structured as a fable of the problem, I’m not exactly certain who or what Fletcher has put on trial here.
Whatever Geoffrey Fletcher might be questioning, his search for an answer is alive and beautifully crafted. What feels less original is Violet & Daisy‘s minimal marketing campaign, reminiscent of a recurring flash through Daisy’s mind in the film, reducing Fletcher’s highest card to a familiar image: a pretty girl with a gun and a sparkle of confidence in her eye. It’s an unfortunate package for a film that reveals its greatest strength when it puts its guns down.
Early on in the film, Violet asks Michael defensively, “What makes you think a girl can’t be in on it?” If one point is clear in Violet & Daisy, it’s that the question of whether a girl can be “in on it” is no longer the most interesting question to answer.
Published December 3, 2012.
 Manohla Dargis, “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Blood Bath: Underaged Costumed Crime-fighters, With Nicolas Cage,” New York Times, 16 Apr. 2011: C14,
http://movies.nytimes.com/2010/04/16/movies/16kick.html (accessed 1 Nov. 2012).
 A.O. Scott, Manohla Dargis, “Gosh, Sweetie, That’s a Big Gun: Women as Violent Characters in Movies,” New York Times, 1 May 2011: MT1,
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/movies/women-as-violent-characters-in-movies.html (accessed 1 Nov. 2012).
Steve Drum lives in Savannah, Georgia, with a cat and husband. In 2009, Drum earned his B.F.A. in Theatre from New York University. He is earning an M.F.A. in Writing and an M.A. in Cinema Studies from the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). He is working on a history of Jim French’s Colt Studios, told from the perspective of former models. His writing has been published in The Huffington Post, The St. Sebastian Quarterly, and is forthcoming in The Wordstock Ten and The Gertrude Press Journal.