Review: Director Justine Bateman pulls out all the stylistic stops in anxiety drama ‘Violet’
The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.
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
Only good movies
Get the Indie Focus newsletter, Mark Olsen's weekly guide to the world of cinema.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.