SXSW 2021: 'Violet', 'How It Ends' | Olivia Munn, Zoe Lister-Jones | Capsule Reviews
Violet, played by Olivia Munn, is the eponymous character of Violet, working as the head of production at a film production company which has an off-putting environment to work in. Violet also happens to have an inner voice (Justin Theroux) which is demoralising her in every turn, whether that is in regards to her professional or personal life and there are notes appearing on screen that are relaying her actual thoughts in real time as she isn't really one to raise her voice, or frankly, stand up for herself. She begins to experiment not listening to the inner voice and instead being more straightforward in her relationships and communication, just to see how that affects her mental health.
Just the basis of the film gives director and writer Justine Bateman a chance to get creative with her team and she certainly does that in the editing suite with editor Jay Friedkin. There is no dead air in the cut and we get just enough different perspectives on Violet's interactions to make sure that every scene gives us information. All that information builds Violet as a character in the structure of a film and we know exactly where her insecurities come from, how they manifest themselves socially and how she either receives or rejects the inner voice. One deviation from the success is the incorporation of graphic design animation on the screen; it's rather large and unreadable at times so it can draw you away from scenes like it did for me, thinking about it as well as trying to listen the inner voice dialogue but also look at the acting isn't all that enjoyable.
Whenever those distractions aren't there however, Munn is giving such an eclectic performance that you can't help but stare wondrously. Character work gets you only so far but when it's packaged with world-class acting, the film reaps all the benefits from it. Bateman's script is also smart in the sense that the character of Violet has an arc that lets an actor express rather than explain their journey, in this case their journey to self-realisation. It's wonderful that the film trusts both the audience and Violet to figure things out instead of feeding those things using secondary characters, that is standing up for yourself.
Smileys: Editing, Olivia Munn, characterisation
Frowneys: Minor issues with directing
HOW IT ENDS
Apocalypse movies aren't a new thing in any way so it would only make sense SXSW have one in their catalogue, usually they just aren't as light in tone as How It Ends happens to be. Directed and written by Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein while Lister-Jones also stars in it and Wein is one of the cinematographers and editors, the film is set on the last day of Earth's existence. Lister-Jones' character Liza along with her younger self (played by Cailee Spaeny) goes around Los Angeles hashing things out with several other people before heading to one last party where she is going to confess her love to Nate (Logan Marshall-Green).
Those several other people are mostly just celebrity cameos as names such as Olivia Wilde, Nick Kroll, Finn Wolfhard, Lamorne Morris, Whitney Cummings, Fred Armisen, Bradley Whitford and Charlie Day appear. That is also kind of the problem with How It Ends; all you'll really remember from it are the famous faces since there isn't anything too thought-provoking about it. It's rather hard to care about Liza and her thing with Nate which is a bummer because that bookends the story and the resolution is a washout. Overall it's about Liza's own self-worth, though you might miss that beat as those character moments are as inspirational as a meditative Instagram post.
Biggest flaw of the film is that it is the worst kind of COVID-era project with no charm or original take. Much of it comes down to Wein and Lister-Jones' vision as directors; every cameo is just strange because people are keeping their distance so they get filmed from unpleasant angles and the lead actors enter and exit the scene in ways that make no sense filmmaking-wise. Also the walking - there is only so much patience to have watching people walk on empty streets with no proper dialogue and that's like half of this film. How It Ends screams to be a short film at the faces of the filmmakers but maybe the chance of celeb cameos override the realisation of creative wealth.