Violet [SXSW21]

We all have that little voice in our head, the one that tells us that we are doing it wrong and how we are worthless. For some, they are able to ignore it, for others it is much harder. I am part of the latter part, the ones that anxiously stand with others wondering if they really like me, the one who has trouble accepting that maybe someone really wants to be friends with me. That little voice in your head can cause damage in your life like nothing else, and you are really the only one that witnesses it. Justine Bateman’s directorial debut, from a script she wrote, Violet finds a way to put on screen that struggle, that anxiety that somehow ruins your life. 

Starring Olivia Munn with a career performance, Violet chooses a style that truly represents what it is like to live with anxiety. From the very first frame, you are forced to witness a stylistic choice that will follow them until the very end. This choice is an attack on your senses, an attack that gives you anxiety, it’s a choice that at times can be a lot, too much even, but isn’t exactly what anxiety feels like? Justine Bateman creates an environment that feels exactly like a panic attack, where you feel everything and nothing at the same time. It’s a choice that should work because it is so much but somehow, Bateman makes it work in every way. Not only with the editing, but the voice-over from Justin Theroux (The Leftovers) provides another outlet for Bateman to create these emotions in us. 

Olivia Munn (The Newsroom, X-Men: Days of Future Past) delivers a career-best performance. Olivia Munn has been great in a lot, but she hasn’t delivered a performance quite like this before. Violet’s emotions are hiding for most of the film and yet, she can showcase them without any problem. It’s a nuanced performance that provides context as to how she feels, it’s at times a lot and others not enough but it is exactly how anxiety feels. Where Munn succeeds the most is when she tries to break free from The Voice. Her internal debate isn’t internal anymore, we see it, we hear it, we witness it. She gets to show a range that we haven’t gotten a chance to see from her before. The way she portrays Violet’s emotional changes, the way she goes from reserved and scared, to confident and loud is exactly what this film needs. She is the film, she makes or breaks it, and without her, the film just wouldn’t work.

As someone who has dealt with anxiety my whole life, films that deal with anxiety too often downplays it. Violet never tries to do that, we are giving context as to when and where she started feeling this way, the event in her life that told her that she was worth nothing. Violet is a successful woman, a strong woman and yet, she lets everyone walk over her. She lets that voice dictate everything in her, she listens to it and accepts it as simple truth. When her friend tells her that she simply doesn’t listen to hers, Violet is shocked but also angry, because why can’t she be like her? Why can’t she just breaks free from the shackle of that anxiety and imposter syndrome? Once Violet starts to oppose the voice in her head, it just gets louder. She is miserable and yet, for so long, she accepted it. She doesn’t see an escape until someone tells her that she is valued, and even if she doesn’t believe it at first, her confidence grows with every decision she makes. By the end, she stands tall and happy, and sure, the voice is still there but maybe, just maybe, she can move on and continue to simply try and ignore it.

Violet is loud, stylish but also feels so real. It’s not trying to sugarcoat the reality that so many deals with every day. Justine Bateman comes out swinging and doesn’t miss, creating an environment that might leave you feeling uncomfortable and give you a headache, but it is supposed to be like that. You are supposed to feel like that because that is how Violet feels. It makes you confront a reality that you might not know but if you know it, you understand it. Anchored with a career-best performance from Olivia Munn, Violet is a film that you will watch and sit with after for some time because it makes you confront the own little voice in your head.