Credit: Atlas Distribution
Before We Vanish by Steven Warner Film

The Sound of Violet — Allen Wolf

April 27, 2022

The Sound of Violet is a deeply out of touch, frequently offensive bit of nonsense that is best left unwatched.

Phrases like “unbelievable” and “batshit insane” get bandied about by critics — this one included — so regularly that they have virtually lost all meaning, the inclination to traffic in extremes an unfortunate side effect of both recency bias and a love of the clicks. It’s especially unfortunate for films like new romantic dramedy The Sound of Violet, which starts with the logline, “A young man’s autism prevents him from realizing his soulmate is a prostitute,” and miraculously grows only more bonkers from there. Writer-director Allen Wolf adapts his own 2015 novel of the same name, which apparently won awards from groups whose names will remain anonymous. Perhaps this offensive melodrama worked better on the page, where its abrupt tonal shifts and wackadoo plot twists could have a little more room to breathe — or, at the very least, allow for the necessary suspension of disbelief for which the medium of film can occasionally have little patience. Yet it’s hard to imagine this working in any medium, considering the premise itself is flawed from inception.

Shawn (Cason Thomas) is a twenty-something coder working for a high-profile dating app, and his autism makes it difficult for him to engage in meaningful relationships. In the film’s opening montage, Shawn’s numerous dates are seen literally sprinting away from him, even as he is upfront about his condition and is Hollywood handsome, making these women quite possibly the worst people on the planet. Shawn’s romantic prospects take a turn for the bizarre when, at a “Pimps and Hoes” work party, he meets Violet (Cora Cleary), an attractive young woman and prostitute who agrees to have dinner with Shawn under the condition that she be paid $300 an hour. Shawn agrees, thinking she is posing as a “ho” and is not an actual sex worker, a fact which still eludes him even after she arrives at his place the next day, provocatively licking an apple muffin and removing her top. This evolves into the most bizarre first date of all time, as Shawn accompanies Violet on her various fuck sessions — four in total — which she claims are acting auditions. (Don’t worry, he waits outside.) Violet sees Shawn as her meal ticket out of a life of human trafficking, violently controlled by her evil pimp, Anton (Michael E. Bell). Shawn, meanwhile, just sees a nice girl, while his rightfully concerned grandmother (Jan D’Arcy) and brother (Kaelon Christopher) desperately try to convince him of the truth. It’s at the halfway point that Shawn and Violet get married, with Violet meeting up with a client minutes after their civil union, while Shawn is still oblivious. Once he learns the error of his ways, he tries to buy Violet back from her pimp for $15,000, but they have to act fast, because as Violet herself says, “I heard my pimp talk to a gangbanger about moving us to Portland,” which is quite possibly the whitest line ever uttered in a motion picture. At another point, the film briefly ventures into God’s Not Dead territory, as Shawn is devoutly religious and invites Violet to a church service, where she is so moved by an amateur band’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” that she briefly believes the Lord can save her. But the film soon forgets about this plot thread, because it needs to have an extended scene where Anton beats up Shawn.

It’s not the least bit surprising that the only other movie on writer-director Wolf’s filmography is a Lifetime flick starring Lacey Chabert, or that The Sound of Violet is the only novel he has ever written. (It is, however, a little more shocking that he is also a successful board game designer.) This particular adaptation feels like a Lifetime movie on crack, a startling accomplishment considering the cable network is currently waist-deep in a film series where Eric Roberts plays a diabolical doctor. It would be nice to report that the movie is at least well-intentioned, but it uses Shawn’s autism for so many cheap jokes that its attempts at empathy ring entirely hollow and frequently offensive. That these “jokes” butt up against scenes of Violet being drugged and raped makes the proceedings especially problematic, as if it wanted to be a feel-good romance a la Pretty Woman crossed with the gritty realism of Klute without ever realizing that such a tonal marriage is virtually impossible. There’s certainly more than a fair share of wish fulfillment going on in The Sound of Violet, even as it ends on a title card urging its viewer to seek more information on human trafficking. That would certainly be more worthy of your time than this ill-fated monstrosity.

Published as part of Before We Vanish — April 2022.