Violet appears to have it all from the outside. She is attractive, stylish, and exudes a serene confidence. In her booming profession as a movie production executive in Los Angeles, she is respected and adored. And she shares an amazingly cool mid-century modern building in the hills with a longstanding man friend—a charming and handsome screenwriter.
But she tells herself—or rather, “The Committee” tells her—a different story. Every decision and conversation is criticized and questioned by the voice, which purrs menacingly and sadistically. She’s a pig, to be sure. She’s getting in the way. She’ll fail miserably. She isn’t supposed to be here. And she is unworthy of happiness or intimacy.
The underlying issue in writer/director Justine Bateman’s feature filmmaking debut, “Violet,” is this vast discrepancy. The former ’80s comedy star certainly has something personal and searing to say as she transitions from front to behind of the camera. Her film will undoubtedly strike a chord with many people who are plagued by nagging voices in their heads. Olivia Munn gets the chance to show off her theatrical ability as the title character, which we haven’t seen her do before. However, the depiction of Violet’s profound fears has so many layers of overdone, relentless style that it feels like overbearing clutter, preventing Munn’s performance from shining through as effectively as it could.
Violet’s more emotional, vulnerable thoughts are frequently shown in the form of white cursive sentences scrawled over the screen, in addition to the voice (Justin Theroux, dripping with deep malice and sarcasm). They’re her wordless cries to herself and to the rest of the world: “Do you think there’s a problem with me?” “I don’t know who I am anymore,” she says. “Please do not leave.” When the stress of a scenario becomes too much—a work meeting, or drinks with a friend—a low hum becomes a loud roar, and a crimson wash washes the screen, drowning everything out and numbing her agony. “There,” the soothing voice says. “Doesn’t that sound better?”
As if it wasn’t enough, Bateman peppers the film with brief flashes of violent and disgusting imagery. From the beginning, we are greeted with a rapid-fire montage of automobile collisions, explosions, glass shattering, and animals rotting. This stunning artistic choice immediately sets us on edge and foreshadows the type of hyper-stylized film “Violet” will be. However, Bateman later undermines herself by inserting quick flashes of this type of imagery in the middle of a discussion to represent Violet’s construction obsession. Cutaways can be awkwardly literal, such as a fighter being punched in the face. As a result, Bateman detracts from the natural drama or honesty that she had established in that moment. Finally, a flashback to a happier period in Violet’s life—riding her bicycle as a youngster in Michigan, smiling with the sun and wind in her hair—appear and play over and over on whatever surface is available, whether it’s the inside of a tunnel or her bedroom wall, like a home movie. This is again another method Bateman employs far too frequently, and at times that appear to be arbitrary.
This method is fascinating for the first half hour or so, but as Violet navigates a succession of exceptionally stressful days, both personally and professionally, it quickly becomes monotonous and tiresome. Munn expertly conveys her character’s simmering panic, as well as how that pain contrasts with her calm façade. She’s frail and twitchy, and at Hollywood events, you can feel her forcing grins in between air kisses. The tense strings of Vum’s score heighten the anxiety she’s feeling.
However, the supporting characters who may have developed out her character beyond her uneasiness and doubt are just sketched on the surface. As her hunky roommate and potentially more, Luke Bracey is far too good to be true; he’s unlikely to be so perfect, still unmarried, and not a blatant player. Violet’s best friend, Erica Ash, is locked in an old cliche as a Black woman with no life whose entire job appears to be turning up for drinks and listening to this woman’s troubles.
As if facing and taming the character’s inner demons wasn’t enough of a task for one film, Bateman also throws in a Harvey Weinstein-inspired subplot, with Violet experiencing humiliations and indignities at the hands of her sleazy, violent boss (Dennis Boutsikaris), the company’s founder. Bateman has worked in the industry for much of her life, so the story she’s presenting has a lot of reality to it. If only she’d just let it stand on its own.