A film involving two women with different reputations/career paths. Justine Bateman was a star when she was younger due to her portrayal of ditzy sister Mallory in the television show Family Ties. After a couple of weak films, she seemed to just settle into appearing in television series sporadically like Arrested Development, Men in Trees, Men Behaving Badly, and Desperate Housewives. Largely forgotten, however. Now she is back, but behind the camera as the writer/director of the feature-length film Violet which is screening at TIFF after a successful debut earlier this year at SXSW.
The second woman in the spotlight here is Olivia Munn. Munn has had a rather up and down career. Gaining success with turns in a series like The Newsroom and films like Date Night, Iron Man 2 and X-Men: Apocalypse and then some less than critically acclaimed films like Ride Along 2 and The Predator. Plus she has been labeled by the media as bitchy and now the whole John Mulaney thing.
Bottom line is that these are two women looking to change the narrative about themselves in the film world. Or at least to show what they are capable of. With the indie film Violet both take a big risk as it is not a flashy everyone is going to love it film. It is an ambitious film which is highly personal but still relatable. Especially for women. Whatever career a woman is in or wherever they are in life they can relate to what Violet is struggling with. Trying to get ahead at work while having to deal with overt or subtle sexism. Family tensions. And that voice in our heads which is telling us we are not good enough according to society’s measuring stick.
32-year-old Violet (Olivia Munn) works as a film executive at a smaller company in Los Angeles. No one at work, especially her boss Tom (Dennis Boutsikaris – from television’s Better Call Saul), truly values what she brings to the table. Which is pretty much everything and without her the company would be floundering. Violet accepts all the disrespect and downright sexism she experiences at work without putting up a fight. She just puts up an indifferent front when humiliated or even attacked.
Why you might ask? Well, that is due to the cruel voice in her head (Justin Theroux – Mulholland Drive, American Psycho) which tears her apart continuously. The voice is always there. Continuously! Tearing at her. Destroying any chance she has at building self-confidence and self-esteem. So she takes all the crap heaped upon her stone-faced and with gritted teeth, but never saying anything in her defense.
As the film goes on we see that she has had some issues in the past. Something with a fire and an ex-boyfriend. Plus a less than solid relationship with her family back in Michigan. She has not even spoken to her mother in several years and you can cut the tension with a knife when her brother Rick (Todd Stashwick – from television’s 12 Monkeys) and Aunt Helen (Bonnie Bedelia – Die Hard, Presumed Innocent) call her. The only people in her corner seem to be her friend Lila (Erica Ash – from television’s Real Husbands of Hollywood) and friend since childhood and scriptwriter, Red (Luke Bracey – G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Point Break – 2015), who she is staying with while her kitchen is being renovated.
If nothing else, what this tells us about Bateman and Menn is that these are two women with huge balls. They don’t seem to be put off at the thought of taking risks. This film is a risk. Both have taken that head on and come out with a film which really makes us readdress what we thought of their talent level. Bateman shows herself to be a filmmaker with a precise idea of what she wants to communicate and the vision to pull it off. The words of Violet’s inner voice are scrawled across the screen which makes them cut even deeper. Plus the choice to make the voice a male one is brilliant. Stylistically the film shouts out “INDIE” but that is not a turn off.
This is a film which will affect you. Mostly because we can all see ourselves in Violet. We all have inner voices. Voices that are not our biggest supporters. Voices which mimic the impossible expectations society has for women. Violet is a well fleshed-out character with many sides. She is hesitant, smart, courageous, brittle, and strong. All in one package. It is a package brought to life by Munn. Never guilty of overacting, she infuses Violet with plenty of realism. Even though Violet can be seen as cold (ironically that is what Olivia Munn has been accused of frequently) we still cheer for her due to the humanity Munn brings to her.
A film which could have easily devolved into psycho mumbo jumbo. Instead, it comes off as genuine, realistic and original. Delving into the battles we all have to wage on a daily basis. A battle with ourselves as well as the world outside. Questioning who were really are and who we can trust. Basic questions we all ask ourselves presented with such vision and creativity that you are totally drawn in.