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Violet (2021)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Time to give Olivia Munn some respect."
4 stars

Olivia Munn has been on my radar since 2006, when she started as one of the hosts of G4’s goofball gamers-and-geeks program 'Attack of the Show.'

Even then, when the show had her jumping into a giant chocolate pie wearing a French maid outfit, Munn had a certain spark and wit, and perhaps an aptitude for things beyond farce. All she needed, I thought, was for someone to notice. In the years since, Munn has appeared in this and that, as a lead or as support, but it took the former actress Justine Bateman — maybe not coincidentally also underestimated — to bring the best out of Munn.

Violet, which Bateman wrote and directed, is a highly interiorized psychodrama in which Munn, as the eponymous movie-production exec, deals with intrusive sounds, images, and an inner male voice, all telling her she’s not good enough. Using editing tricks as well as an effective technique of slowly turning the screen red to suggest Violet’s growing anger, Bateman puts us inside Violet’s head, feelings, wants and needs and fears. She makes it look easy, and some viewers may shrug and say “Is that all there is?” — the film is not plot-bound — but I’d like to point out how rare it is these days for a filmmaker to make time to get to know a woman. It’s a true feminist work, and it doesn’t pretend the usual suspects (men, work, family, friends) will fix what’s wrong with Violet.

And what is wrong? Violet has a flashback to her unpleasant mother chastising her as a little girl for backing out of helping a friend. We gather that Violet learned to tamp her emotions down and keep everyone else happy while ignoring her own happiness. She developed an inner critic (voiced by Justin Theroux) that keeps telling her things like “Be nice” or “You’re a baby.” Violet’s genuine thoughts and wants are written on the screen as she interacts with people who don’t really care what she wants. Since the inner voice once advised her to leave candles burning in an apartment she shared with a boyfriend, you’d think she’d stop listening to it, but such things are much easier said than done.

Charismatic and convincingly torn up inside, Munn is pretty much front and center throughout. She takes inspiration from the screen-written thoughts about feeling uncomfortable in her own skin; about the only person Violet might feel okay talking to is her lifelong friend Red (Luke Bracey), a screenwriter. If we ask why Violet’s milieu is Hollywood, the answer might be that Bateman is writing what she knows. It also allows for conflicts involving what Violet wants to produce; her pet project is a poetic indie script called Fox Run, though her boss (Dennis Boutsikaris) knows it has a slim chance of getting financed. At first, the boss seems to drop his mask and show his true misogynist colors a bit quickly, but Bateman is saying that this is what happens when a powerful man’s ego is pinpricked, his privilege challenged. We remember that insecure men are generally the ones who determine which, and whose, stories we are told in movies. Bateman’s two male co-producers must be secure indeed.

Violet is not man-bashing, though. A few women also annoy or disrespect Violet, and the root of her self-loathing appears to be her mother. Bateman’s own leanings are apparent in the casting, which brings back women who haven’t been in movies much of late — Laura San Giacomo, Bonnie Bedelia, Anne Ramsay, Colleen Camp. The crew, though, is gender-mixed, as we see in a post-credits montage of various technicians, ending with Bateman herself, passing by the camera and pausing for a smile, a pose, a peace gesture.

Their efforts have given us a supple and empathetic story of a woman who needs to start listening to herself, if her self is still in there somewhere.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=34063&reviewer=416
originally posted: 11/11/21 04:40:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2021 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2021 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

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