Updated: Apr 27, 2022
Violet is an indie I’ve heard about for some time, as my old friend Larry Hummel was one of the producers. Larry is a talent manager who represents Justine Bateman, the writer-director. The film was finished right before the pandemic, then had to wait for its film festival premiere and distribution deal, and finally has shown up on Showtime.
Bateman is, of course, known to my generation as the ditzy Mallory from Family Ties. In recent years, she moved into writing and directing short films, and Violet is her first feature.
She has also published a couple of non-fiction books, Fame and Faces, and, regarding the latter, got some press for her unusual (in Hollywood) decision to allow her famous face to age like that of a normal human being, and not transform herself into a brittle and ridiculous plastic android.
Violet stars Olivia Munn as the title character, a Hollywood film exec tormented by a voice in her head (performed by Justin Theroux) that tells her she’s worthless—while her own hopes and desires appear as cursive writing on the screen.
It’s a very unusual, ambitious, combination character-and-concept film in which—screenwriters, don’t try this at home!—the protagonist is almost entirely passive. Her dream man, dream job and dream project (as a producer) get thrown in her lap—and the film’s dramatic conflict is mostly “internal” as she has to cast off this hideous voice in order to accept them.
It’s simply but stylishly made—great cinematography, good score, smart editing and there’s a welcome band of supporting players (Luke Bracey, Zachary Gordon, Dennis Boutsikaris, Bonnie Bedelia, Anne Ramsey, Colleen Camp).
I would not have figured Olivia Munn as a “shrinking violet,” but she’s very good as the lead. The fact that her screen persona is typically one of toughness works, because the film is about—and Bateman has said as much—the societal pressure on women to be demure and self-effacing. Whereas men are like, “Sure, I can land an airplane, where do I sit?”
It also does a good job of building empathy for somebody in the film business, which is typically not a good subject for connecting to “civilians” in the mass audience, given the perception (not inaccurate) of Hollywood people as self-absorbed, glamour-addicted pricks and phonies. (To their—our?—credit, nobody knows this better than film people.)
There’s one bit of slight-of-hand that the film gets away with, which I noticed (because I’m a writer) but most people won’t. The film’s “inciting incident” (which starts the story in motion) is when Violet casually mentions the critical voice in her head to a friend, as if everybody has one installed like in a science-fiction movie. The friend’s like, “Huh?”
Well...I find it unlikely, if this voice really is that consequential to Violet, that this would be the first time she would ever mention it to somebody else. But the film wouldn’t really work if she had expressed this as some kind of huge breakthrough in therapy, for example, because then it would be about the mechanics of the voice instead of what it really means for Violet’s life.
Also, because I’m a director, I was thinking, is Violet adopted? Olivia Munn is mixed-race but her brother is white. And for some reason, in flashbacks, she looks Latina.
But don’t mind me. This is a very good film and congrats to Bateman, my friend Larry, and all the cast and crew—and I did notice the unusual post-credits sequence, in which the crew walks past a static camera to wave hello. That was cool!