Review: Director Justine Bateman pulls out all the stylistic stops in anxiety drama ‘Violet’

A woman in a bikini holds a sparkler in the movie “Violet.”
Olivia Munn in the movie “Violet.”
(Mark Williams / Relativity Media)

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Actress Justine Bateman’s directorial debut, the self-reflective inner monologue sketch “Violet,” starring Olivia Munn, could be aptly subtitled: “Portrait of an Anxiety Disorder.”

Bateman uses Hollywood as her setting for this exercise in subjective cinema, an apt playground for exploring the crippling fear of being yourself. Violet (Munn), a film executive, is ruled by her anxiety, even though her outer countenance rarely gives that away. Bateman employs a clever, if a bit heavy-handed, device to illustrate what Violet refers to as “the committee”: the voice in her head that dictates, questions and undermines her every waking moment.

There are three layers of visual and aural storytelling that represent Violet’s existence — first, Munn’s performance as an externally unflappable Hollywood power broker; second, a hand-written white onscreen scrawl of her most tender and vulnerable feelings; and third, the most sinister, the voice inside her head (Justin Theroux), a baritone purr that constantly informs Violet that she’s a horrible, out-of-place loser. The voice commands her subservience to an emotionally abusive boss, keeps her from chasing intimate relationships and imprisons her in a toxic family dynamic.

Bateman isn’t exactly subtle when it comes to the psychology of “Violet.” A flashback of Violet riding her bike as a confident and carefree child provides a visual motif that repeats whenever she manages to quiet the voice, but the memory also offers the origin of Violet’s inner critic: her mother. It’s not clear why Bateman cast a male actor as the voice in her head, though Theroux’s rumbling tone provides a chilling resonance to Violet’s self-sabotaging thoughts.


Utilizing such overt stylization of a high-concept approach, “Violet” is a bit of a one-trick pony. But Bateman, as well as Munn, manage to pull it off in a feature-length format, and Violet’s eventual hard-earned redemption is deeply satisfying.


Rated: R, for language throughout and some sexual references

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: starts Oct. 29, Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood