Geoffrey Fletcher’s directorial debut, Violet & Daisy, has a lot of arch dialogue and very little depth. Talky and artificial, it moves like a sort of lobotomized Hal Hartley movie; it has plenty of Hartley-esque rhetorical devices—theatrical speech patterns, naïve characters, jokey plotting—but lacks Hartley’s sense of curiosity or engagement with the real world. This wouldn’t be a problem if Fletcher—who won an Oscar for writing Precious—had a grasp of style that went beyond shooting in widescreen and not moving the camera very often; for the most part, Violet & Daisy is little more than a visualized screenwriting exercise.
Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan star as the title characters, teenage contract killers who spend most of their time giggling, playing patty-cake, and talking about their favorite pop star, Barbie Sunday. A magazine ad for a new line of Barbie Sunday dresses sends the two looking for quick cash, which comes in the form of James Gandolfini, a world-weary sad sack with a price on his head. However, pulling the trigger on him turns out to be more difficult than they thought, in part because Gandolfini—who is already dying of terminal cancer—isn’t afraid of death. Instead, he sits and talks with his would-be assassins. He even bakes them cookies.
Arch cutesiness aside, it’s a neat premise—killers who never think about death are forced to confront a target who thinks about it all the time. Bledel, Gandolfini, and especially Ronan are excellent; their mannered performances nearly make up for the fact that they’re playing one-dimensional characters. The film’s problems really come down to Fletcher, whose writerly conceits—unnecessary chapter headings, an elaborate dream sequence, monologues that are well-structured but convey nothing—don’t flesh out the movie so much as underscore its wafer-thinness; they register as storytelling devices in search of a purpose.