It’s pretty hard to ignore the fact that “Violet & Daisy” likely wouldn’t have become Geoffrey Fletcher’s directorial debut had he not landed an Oscar for his adaptation of “Precious,” based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire. It’s also pretty hard to ignore that “precious” is far too apt a descriptor for his follow-up, a candy-colored offering of bloodshed and banter so self-conscious that it alienates the viewer early and often.
Violet (Alexis Bledel) and Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) are a pair of wide-eyed NYC teens who suck on lollipops, play hopscotch and occasionally blow away ranks of full-grown men while wearing unassuming disguises that nonetheless plainly distinguish their ranks (Violet is the 8th most valued assassin in the vague employment of Chet; Daisy, 9th). They’re often pretty cavalier about taking out their targets, popping bubble gum between popping heads, and not remotely above teenage materialism. (Cody Horn plays superstar Barbie Sunday, although relegated to passing appearances on billboards and magazine covers.)
When Violet and Daisy agree that each is willing to take a quick job if it means earning Barbie Sunday dresses to call their own, they turn up to kill Michael (James Gandolfini). He’s not afraid of them, though; in fact, he’s suicidal, and the two teens suddenly find themselves confounded by this willing mark. Never before has a target baked them cookies before offering themselves up, and this crisis of conscience -- plus a timely lack of bullets -- sees Violet and Daisy keeping Michael company for the better part of the film.
Setting aside the arch dialogue and exaggerated color schemes, the first indication of Fletcher’s take-it-or-leave-it style comes when a liaison (Danny Trejo) gives the girls the lowdown on their latest assignment while playing patty-cake. By the time V+D are giddily bouncing on bodies until blood sprays from their mouths, one couldn’t be blamed for checking out completely. The whimsical flourishes are one thing (a cop’s badge flies off its bullet-ridden owner to land neatly on Violet’s own outfit), but the ensuing heart-to-hearts between an estranged father and these two orphans bring the whole quasi-Tarantino routine to a standstill.
The real kicker is that, while often arch, the performances themselves aren’t without merit. Despite being burdened with incessantly flip dialogue, Ronan and Bledel make a good pair, and Gandolfini brings welcome, albeit familiar, sad-sack gravitas into a world that otherwise intends to reject it. Even Fletcher’s direction is remarkably assured, clean, bright, endlessly emphatic, like a graphic novel brought to life. Why “Violet & Daisy” wasn’t on the page first (or instead) -- where its indulgent dream sequences, frequent chapter titles and coming-of-age confessions might not have seemed so wan and self-sabotaging -- we may never know. Alas, on screen, it cannot hope to compare to Ronan’s own turn in the super-stylized “Hanna,” the profane moral dilemmas of “In Bruges,” or the game-changing granddaddy that was “Pulp Fiction.”
SCORE: 4.8 / 10