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SXSW Review: Olivia Munn is Nomination Worthy in ‘Violet’

We all have that voice inside of our heads, guiding us throughout the day. Hopefully, your voice is filled with affirmations and positivity, instilling in you a sense of self-worth. However, for many people (myself included), the voice may be a more complicated one, perhaps even sabotaging us. This sense, that the voice in our heads may be leading us astray, eventually forms the backbone of the SXSW film Violet. While the initial hook isn’t exactly handled perfectly, it comes together well enough. Mostly though, this is a platform to sing the praises of Olivia Munn, who has never been better. She single-handedly saves the day.

Violet visualizes self-doubt in a matter that a movie has never quite attempted before. Using onscreen text, editing, and a disembodied voice in our protagonist’s head, you’re within her world in a very unique way. It’s stark and relatable, helping to gloss over some of the storytelling fumbles that occur. Between the ambition and Munn’s work, the good certainly outweighs the bad.

For Violet (Munn), life is a series of self-doubts. Here, it’s made explicit by the voice (voice of Justin Theroux) that comments on her day to day activities. On the outside, she’s a successful film executive, beautiful and likable. On the inside, she’s damn near drowning. Living with her longtime friend Red (Luke Bracey), a successful screenwriter, she’ll have a pastry for breakfast, hearing the voice call her fat. It’s how she’s always lived her life, and the voice has led her down a series of paths she’s now beginning to question.

At a certain point, Violet starts to wonder if she’s been making the wrong choices her whole life. When it finally comes to a head, both with Red, as well as with her boss Tom Gaines (Dennis Boutsikaris), the terror of defying the voice presents something else as well. What if ignoring the voice is the key to freedom and happiness, instead?

Olivia Munn delivers a stand out performance, easily the best of her career. Justin Theroux is exactly what’s needed for the voice, but Munn is who pulls you in. She does so much with her face here, contorting ever so slightly as she allows one small insult after the next go unanswered. The complexity of the performance is what effectively depicts what the flick is trying to say. The supporting cast, including the likes of Al Madrigal, among others, are fine, yet unremarkable.

Writer/director Justine Bateman has a hell of a concept here. At the same time, it doesn’t all come together, outside of Munn. The aforementioned directorial flourishes are mostly busying up the screen, whether it’s quick cutaways and stylish editing, or ample amounts of text on screen. The latter decision initially is distinctive, but a little bit goes a long way. Script-wise, the deep nature of the thesis is here, though sometimes it’s broadly put forward. Munn helps a lot, though beyond that, there’s a very thin narrative within Violet that somehow pads out an alright slight running time.

Violet is the Olivia Munn show, plain and simple. She makes this SXSW title more than just a flawed curiosity. Due to her work, it’s something that demands your attention. I suspect it’ll prove divisive when it eventually gets released. Even so, Munn is so good, that aspect is likely to be rightly fawned upon. Especially if you like her, this is one to keep an eye out for.

SCORE: ★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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