I saw “Violet & Daisy” at TIFF, where after the screening an audience member let Geoffrey Fletcher know that “Tony Soprano” was perfect for the role of Michael. This seems to me to be a horrific insult to James Gandolfini. His Michael is the gravity at the center of Fletcher’s film. When Michael arrives in the film, he pulls the title characters to a standstill, his apartment, where the majority of the action takes place, slow and quiet against the chattering pace that Violet and Daisy have established. Gandolfini plays Michael with his special kind of heaviness, but there is not an ounce of danger or volatility.
Violet (Alexis Bledel) and Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) are teenage contract killers. We meet them disguised as nuns, cracking wise while blasting improbably through a bunch of adversaries to rescue someone or other. So far, so Tarantino. They are excruciatingly childlike, playing pat-a-cake, accepting the next job only because they need money to buy the latest dresses from a pop star’s clothing line. We seem established in a familiar place, from where the two girls can go on an improbable, guns-blazing adventure.
But it is not to be: the target of the job they accept is Michael. They fall asleep in his apartment while waiting for him to come home, and like a fairytale they wake up in a different world, and we, the audience, wake up in a different movie. They are still in Michael’s apartment, yes, but it appears that he has been expecting them and is ready and willing to be killed. The world stops. Michael bakes cookies.
The awful sadness that soaks the film from Michael’s introduction on is powerful because it is set against the consequence-free movie-hitmen world we had been led into. It is remarkable that the about-face works so well. Even when the first world bleeds into the second, via a protracted encounter with a group of four rival hitmen (who seem to have wandered in from a Jim Jarmusch movie) also sent to kill Michael, the dislocation is complete. I felt a deeper suspense in the second world than would have been possible in the first.
The mystery of why Michael would want to be killed turns out to be almost no mystery. He is dying and has been unable to repair relations with his estranged daughter. In being killed he would get a quick exit and some cash to leave to her. At last it becomes apparent why Violet and Daisy have been established as so childlike, as they will be allowed, obliquely, a sliver of the love and guidance that Michael could not give his daughter. When, in the uncertain stasis in Michael’s apartment, events seem to point to a disastrous fracture in Violet and Daisy’s relationship, Michael can shepherd them through.
The character of the absent, innocent, noble father is perhaps not a new one, but it helps here that Michael is allowed to be wise without being overtly smart. The decisions he makes during our time with him are subtle; his big decisions are made. His almost childlike dictation to Violet of a heartbreaking letter to his daughter allows him to express the pure emotion that seems a distillate of everything he must have felt before we ever met him. He has become simpler and simpler, but like a pendulum the complexity and nuance has passed to Violet and Daisy. Why do you want to die, they ask throughout. Michael knows, but they cannot see it, and so they are not children any more.