Violet and Daisy

What is it with cinema’s fixation this year on beautiful teenage girls dressed in ludicrous outfits and packing heat? First Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” gave us scantily-clad femme fatales in gasmasks and bikinis, blowing away a plantation’s worth of drug dealers. And now, in “Violet & Daisy,” the directorial debut of “Precious” writer Geoffrey Fletcher, the opening sequence features two girls decked out in nun regalia as they kill random lowlives in an apartment complex.

“Violet & Daisy” is more conceit than film. It steals a little from “Pulp Fiction” (both before and after a bloody hit, two nonchalant assassins discuss unrelated things, in this case bestiality), a tad from “Suicide Kings” (criminals in way over their head are outsmarted by their hostage), a smidgen from “The Professional” (a troubled girl finds a daddy figure in an older criminal). The soundtrack is, of course, incongruously light and poppy (“Pulp Fiction,” again), filled with bubblegum pop and soul songs from the likes of Nat King Cole, The Spinners and Merrilee Rush.

The problem with “Violet & Daisy” isn’t lack of freshness, however. Nor is it lacking in vitality. The title characters, a pair of giggly, bouncy roommates who happen to be hired hit women, are endearingly played by “Gilmore Girls’” Alexis Bledel (Violet, the sassy, remorseless one) and “The Lovely Bones’” Saoirse Ronan (Daisy, the sweet-natured, doubting one). And James Gandolfini, playing a self-pitying, ailing loner whom the girls are assigned to kill for stealing from their boss, is a strong foil for them, a resigned lump of sarcastic restraint.

The fatal flaw is at the story level. The film’s first third repeats the same crude, one-joke, pseudo-shocking premise, as we watch these two cherubs alternate between typical schoolgirl behavior (pattycake, squealing and jumping on the bed, obsessing over their favorite designer dresses) and the very hardened, grown-up deeds of ambushing and murdering leagues of violent men (some more than twice their age). It’s mildly amusing at times, vaguely disturbing at others, and not convincing for a millisecond.

Then the girls break in to Gandolfini’s apartment. They hear an angry answering machine message from his estranged daughter, and immediately, Daisy sympathizes, realizing their target is a human being and that she’s the wrong girl for this sordid business. Violet, however, is undeterred. Business is business.

The film then grinds to a deadly halt as the hit job is indefinitely stalled. It segues between sentimental mush–Gandolfini has pancreatic cancer, his wife left him for no good reason, his daughter misjudged him as an irresponsible jerk, and so forth—and misbegotten symbolism (a nightmare sequence involving autumn fields, plane crashes and pompadour hairdos).

Bledel manages a few savvy lines; explaining to Daisy why assassins can’t get to know their victims, she says “It’s why they don’t name any of the pigs on the sausage farm.” And Fletcher pulls off some nifty visual tricks (Violet and Daisy pouncing on just-murdered corpses, arguing over who gets to dance on the “fat one”; Violet showering atop a rubble of dead bodies she’s stored in the bathtub).

But overall, Fletcher seems blindsided by his own strained material (he also got scripting duties). In the end, we learn nothing about why we should care about these shallow girls (their most telling trait is that they’re saving up for boutique dresses), not even a glimpse into how they became so damaged as to pursue this particular career path. “Violet & Daisy” is a would-be parable on wasted youth that’s content to remain a warped fantasy–and that’s a shame.