Violet & Daisy has a lot going for it, but throughout the film a constant battle wages between averred grittiness and its own cuteness. There's nothing overly wrong with the end result, but it's a film that will rub some the wrong way, just as it pleases others.
The premise is pretty simple. Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan are adorable young ladies who work as hired assassins. Bledel plays the loose cannon psychopath while Ronan's more of a space cadet. After a successful job which, for reasons concocted for the sake of quirk alone, requires them to dress both as nuns and pizza delivery girls, the duo takes on the quick and easy gig of killing James Gandolfini. Unfortunately, killing this guy is harder than it looks because he's really nice.
So right there we step into problematic territory. The central conceit making this film remotely attractive is the irony that such adorable young women could be cold blooded killers. The film wants to enjoy the pairing of little girls and gore, but also shies away from really committing to the idea. Supposedly professional operators in a highly dangerous field, when the girls arrive early at Gandolfini's apartment (on an oversized tricycle, by the way) they both accidentally fall asleep. Gandolfini comes home and finds them this way. Instead of shooting them, he covers them with a blanket. Later he makes them milk and cookies. Later still, the two girls play a game where they jump on the tummies of recently murdered gangsters in an attempt to make blood squirt out of their faces.
If you can bridge the dissonance between these two tones, Violet & Daisy rewards you with a couple of great performances and a touching but fun story that honors the three dramatic unities (I love when that happens). It has enough cinematic flourish to keep from looking like a play, but it certainly feels like one. In this case, that's a good thing.
As the violent Violet, Alexis Bledel comes off the worst of the three leads, though it's not really her fault. Indicative of the film's tonal issues, Bledel's stance as a violent assassin hiding her remorse and regret under a veneer of little girl machismo often feels too forced, which is actually the point but still can't overcome the inherent innocence the actress exudes. While it's certainly fun to watch Rory Gilmore kill people, it also seems like little more than play acting. This reading is emphasized by the film's unwillingness to show anyone shoot and get shot in the same frame, keeping us constantly at arms length from the severity of Violet's violence.
Saoirse Ronan's more openly conflicted Daisy is a much better character, making a more impressive performance possible as a result. There's a burgeoning adult behind Ronan's eyes that automatically imbues her with more reality than Bledel's seemingly endless adolescence. At the same time, however, she appears slightly aloof and alien, all contributing to Daisy's moral conflict.
Both characters are kind of real world impossible, but accepting the impossible is a requirement for enjoying this film. Even then, however, a late revelation regarding Daisy pushes the film's fragile suspension of disbelief to the very breaking point. Without giving anything away, it's the kind of new character information that distracts from the film by introducing a flood of unanswered questions, both logistical and temporal.
Grounding things somewhat is a very sober performance from James Gandolfini, whose range always surprises me. Conceptually his character is yet another unbelievable conceit, but he brings so much warmth to the film that it doesn't really matter. His chemistry with Saoirse Ronan is particularly great, and any real emotion the film has emits solely from his character.
Luckily, the film is not without humor, though much of it is muted and overly reliant on quirkiness. There is an interesting streak of fantasy working alongside the film which helps smooth out all the blatant unreality. Each assassin in whatever organization these girls work for is ranked by number. Daisy is number nine. Violet is number eight. We never see number ten, but the legendary number one exists within the story's shadow and presents the film with one of its best scenes. In a playful, Wes Anderson-esque touch, these numbers are displayed on Violet & Daisy's clothes regardless of what they're wearing.
This numerical bit of goofiness goes a long way toward reinforcing Violet & Daisy's purely fantastic world, but there is not enough of it present to totally pin down a specific tone. As a result, the film functions and even succeeds, but never quite comes together as strongly as you'd like.