SXSW 2021 Review: Violet

Year: 2021
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Justine Bateman
Writer: Justine Bateman
Cast: Olivia Munn, Justin Theroux, Luke Bracey, Dennis Boutsikaris, Erica Ash, Todd Stashwick, Bonnie Bedelia

By Joan Amenn

Mental health is often depicted in film as a debilitating disease, perhaps because it makes for more dramatic story telling. “Violet” (2021) takes a different look at anxiety and how it may be affecting those closest to us while we may not even be aware of it. Director Justine Bateman has created a powerful analysis of how trauma can shape our interior narratives with ourselves in a destructive way, even as we lead what seem to be normal lives.

Violet (Olivia Munn) has it all, or nearly does. She works in the film industry, she is gorgeous and she has a very attractive friend (Luke Bracey) whose house she is staying in as hers is being renovated. But this is all on the surface as Violet is a seething hurricane of emotional tension inside. Bateman also wrote the clever script with sharp dialog and excellent pacing of how the plot unfolds. The real surprise of the film is Justin Theroux, who is never seen but lends his voice in a unique and, at times, unnerving way.

While “Violet” may be too quick to resolve the issues that it’s title character struggle with, it raises some excellent questions about how we as a society treat people with mental illnesses. To its credit, the film never labels Violet nor does it delve into the various treatments that she could pursue. Instead, she listens to friends whom she trusts and learns to trust herself to evolve past what she has always accepted to be true. It’s a rewarding journey to accompany her on and Olivia Munn is wonderfully subtle as a woman coming to recognize her own self-worth. Luke Bracey also brings more complexity to Violet’s friend Red than being a convenient “knight in shining armor.” There are some nice cameos by Todd Stashwick as Violet’s toxic brother and Bonnie Bedelia as her perpetually hostile aunt.

Bateman has a confident way with setting up her scenes and interweaving surreal elements to convey Violet’s inner turmoil that is very effective. Those who have struggled with anxiety and issues with self-esteem will find much to relate to in Violet, perhaps even to inspire them to commit to finding their own happiness. As a first feature, Justine Bateman’s work here is a welcome and admirable dialog on the inner battles so many face. She shows she is capable of handling the complexities of her character’s motivations without the story becoming maudlin or disrespectful in playing for easy and tired tropes. Bravo to her and looking forward to her next project.

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