Review: ‘The Sound of Violet,’ starring Cason Thomas, Cora Cleary, Jan D’Arcy, Kaelon Christopher and Michael E. Bell

May 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Cora Cleary and Cason Thomas in “The Sound of Violet” (Photo courtesy of Atlas Distribution)

“The Sound of Violet”

Directed by Allen Wolf

Culture Representation: Taking place in Seattle, the dramatic film “The Sound of Violet” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young autistic man, who lives with his widowed grandmother, falls in love with a prostitute, much to the disapproval of his grandmother and his older brother.

Culture Audience: “The Sound of Violet” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in schmaltzy movies that preach the sexist belief that women sex workers need to be saved by religious men.

Michael E. Bell and Cora Cleary in “The Sound of Violet” (Photo courtesy of Atlas Distribution)

Sappy and preachy to a fault, the melodrama “The Sound of Violet” pushes the sexist message that a woman who’s a sex worker can’t be happy unless she’s rescued by a man with enough money to take care of her. It’s the type of fantasy that was peddled in the 1990 hit film “Pretty Woman,” but “The Sound of Violet” puts a religious spin on it with a cringeworthy story and embarrassing acting. In “Pretty Woman,” the male “rescuer” is a ruthless businessman who finds his sensitive and loving side when he gets involved with the prostitute who’s the movie’s title character. In “The Sound of Violet,” the male “rescuer” is a mild-mannered Christian nerd, who lives in a high-rise apartment building with his religious grandmother and is the direct heir to his grandmother’s upper-middle-class financial assets.

Written and directed by Allen Wolf, “The Sound of Violet” is Wolf’s feature-film directorial debut and is based on Wolf’s 2021 novel of the same name. The movie was originally titled “Hooked” and had this tagline: “He didn’t get women until he got Hooked.” Based on the plot of this woefully amateurish movie, “Hooked” is a play on words, essentially saying that a prostitute is going to come along and trap this socially awkward man into falling in love with her.

“The Sound of Violet” (which takes place in Seattle) states the intentions of the unlucky-in-love sap from the beginning: He wants to find a “nice girl” to marry. His name is Shawn (played by Cason Thomas), who is in his early-to-mid-20s. Shawn happens to be autistic, and he’s never had a serious girlfriend. His strict grandmother Ruth (played by Jan D’Arcy) has deliberately kept him sheltered. Shawn also has the type of autism where he dislikes it when people touch him.

Thomas (who makes his feature-film debut in “The Sound of Violet”) is not autistic in real life, but his main autism consultant for the movie was a “Sound of Violet” crew member who happens to be autistic, according to a statement on the movie’s official website. Thomas’ portrayal of autism is to act naïve for the majority of his screen time in “The Sound of Violet.” Expect to see a lot of scenes of a wide-eyed Shawn blinking nervously or looking shocked when he finds out some of life’s harsh realities.

Even though Shawn is very inexperienced when it comes to dating, he works as a computer programmer for a company that operates a dating app/website. The company has a lenient policy of letting its employees use the company’s dating service for their personal lives. Shawn has been using the app to find women to date. And the results have been that Shawn is getting a series of rejections.

“The Sound of Violet” opens with a scene showing one of these rejections. Shawn is on a date with a woman who’s about the same age. He unwittingly insults her by telling her that he’s disappointed that she looks different from her profile picture. “Your profile picture isn’t very up-to-date,” he adds. She doesn’t seem to mind this criticism, because she tries to hold his hand, but Shawn pulls away and says, “I’m sorry.” Shawn’s discomfort is enough to put her off, so that when Shawn is not looking, she literally runs away from him to end the date.

After this rejection, a self-pitying Shawn complains to his grandmother Ruth: “I’m never getting married.” Ruth quips, “Married? We just need you to get a second date.” Ruth sometimes has sassy lines of dialogue which bring some comic relief to this otherwise heavy-handed melodrama. And why is Shawn in such a rush to get married? He tells his grandmother: “I need to find someone before you die.”

It might not have been intentionally insensitive, but “The Sound of Violet” has a tacky way of making Shawn the butt of several jokes because of his autism. He often says and does things that are tactless or too trusting, which put him in humiliating situations, many of which are intended to make audiences laugh at Shawn. And at other times, the movie goes overboard to make viewers pity Shawn. Either way, “The Sound of Violet” has a questionable depiction of an autistic person.

Not long after experiencing his latest dating embarrassment, Shawn is at his job (where he works in a bland cubicle), when his conceited and arrogant boss Jake (played by Tyler Roy Roberts) announces that the company has changed its policy so that employees can no longer use the company’s app for dating in their personal lives. Jake makes a point of telling Shawn that one of the main reasons for this policy change is because the company has been getting some complaints from the women who went on dates with Shawn. Jake, who owns the company, doesn’t particularly like Shawn, and he doesn’t want Shawn at an upcoming company party that will be held at a nightclub.

Shawn is generally liked by his co-workers, who encourage him to go to the party anyway. One of the male co-workers attempts to help Shawn by giving him tips and advice on how to approach women whom Shawn might want to date. He tries to get Shawn to practice some pickup lines, but even this co-worker thinks Shawn could be a lost cause. He eventually tells Shawn, “All women might be out of your league.”

The theme of the party is “Pimps and Hos,” which says a lot about what kind of boss Jake is to have this derogatory name for a company event. Viewers later find out that Jake hired female sex workers to be at the party, but most of the company employees don’t know it. One of these sex workers is named Violet (played by Cora Cleary), who is about the same age as Shawn or maybe slightly older. She’s definitely got a lot more life experience than Shawn, who sees her at the party and is immediately attracted to her.

Shawn and Violet have an awkward first conversation, where he ends up asking her on a dinner date to take place in his home. Violet tells him, “You’re at a Pimps and Hos party. You’re talking to a ho.” Violet tells Shawn that she charges $300 an hour to do “everything.” Shawn thinks that Violet is joking about being a prostitute. Violet agrees to his request that she come over to his place for their date, which he says should last from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

When Violet arrives at the apartment, Shawn quickly introduces her to his grandmother Ruth. To Shawn, it’s an innocent introduction. To Violet, it looks like she might have been hired to have a kinky threesome. Violet immediately tells Shawn: “No touching until I say so.” Ruth says to Violet and Shawn: “I’ll be in my bedroom, so you two can get started.” Meanwhile, Violet has a look of dread on her face that seems to say, “What have I gotten myself into?”

The double entendre misunderstandings continue in what’s supposed to be a comedic scene. Violet asks Shawn, “Do you want the girlfriend experience?” Shawn smiles and replies, “Only if it will lead to more.” There are some muffins on the dining table. Violet licks one of the muffins in a sexually suggestive manner. Shawn tells her, “You really like those muffins.”

Here’s what so phony and dumb about this “first date” scene: You don’t have to be a sex worker to know that prostitutes expect payment up front before they continue with a “date.” The issue of payment doesn’t come up in Violet and Shawn’s “date” until much later than what would be realistic. Even when Violet mentions to Shawn how much she expects him to pay for the date, he’s still confused and doesn’t understand that she’s a sex worker.

But “The Sound of Violet” doesn’t care about a lot of realistic details. It’s mainly about preaching that Violet is a “sinner” who needs to be saved by a “saintly” man. Violet eventually figures out that Shawn doesn’t have the payment that she was expecting, and he still has no idea that she’s a sex worker, so she abruptly ends the date. However, Violet is mildly amused and entertained by Shawn’s obvious infatuation with her, so she lets him tag along with her for their next “date.”

On this next “date,” Violet lies to Shawn and says that she’s an actress who needs to go on some auditions that day. She has a car driver, who takes Violet and Shawn around town on these “auditions.” Violet tells Shawn to wait in the car while she goes on these “auditions,” which all take place in private homes. Shawn is a little curious about why these auditions are in homes, not offices, but Violet tells him that it’s not unusual to have acting auditions in people’s homes. Of course, viewers know the real reason why Violet is going to these homes.

During this ride-along “date,” Violet gets a call from her controlling and abusive pimp Anton (played by Michael E. Bell), who keeps track of her every move because he has a tracker app on Violet’s phone. Violet lies to Shawn and says that Anton is her “manager.” Much of “The Sound of Violet” is about Violet continuing to lie to Shawn about what she does to make money. Later in the movie, it should come as no surprise when it’s revealed that Violet isn’t her real name.

Many faith-based drama movies that are about women or girls involved in prostitution have a problematic and racist pattern of putting African American men in the roles of pimps. “The Sound of Violet” is one of those movies, which refuse to acknowledge that most of the pimps in America are actually white. Anton later does something heinous (he sets Violet up to be drugged and raped) that results in Anton getting sexually explicit photos of Violet. Anton threatens to send the photos to Violet’s family members, who have no idea that Violet is a sex worker. It’s essentially Anton blackmailing Violet to continue working for him.

Anton has two other female sex workers under his control named Aleesha (played by Embeba Hagos) and Nadia (played by Esha Moore), who are portrayed as loyal friends to Violet but also as money-hungry thieves. Nadia also has a drug habit. Aleesha and Nadia eventually meet Shawn and Ruth in a very fake-looking and clumsily staged scene. It’s the movie’s way of saying, “Why save just one hooker when you can save three?”

Violet and Shawn start seeing each other on a regular basis, but how much longer can Violet keep up her charade? Ruth doesn’t approve of the relationship because she thinks Violet isn’t good enough for Shawn. Shawn’s protective older brother Colin (played by Kaelon Christopher), who works as a waiter at a local diner, doesn’t trust Violet either. Ruth and Colin rightfully suspect that Violet isn’t being entirely truthful about who she is. Colin even has a private meeting with Violet to tell her to stop dating Shawn. She refuses.

Even though Violet and Shawn seem to be very different from each other, they both have something in common: dysfunctional family members who caused them trauma. Violet and Shawn tell each other about it as they get to know each other better. Shawn says that his parents split up when he was young, and his father was an alcoholic. Shawn’s mother, for unnamed reasons, was not able to take care of Shawn and Colin, so Ruth raised the two brothers. As for Violet’s childhood, Violet says that her father abandoned her, and she was sexually abused by her father’s brother.

But wait, there’s more: Shawn has synesthesia, a sensory condition, where he mixes up colors with sounds. And so, throughout the movie, there are cheesy visual and audio effects of Shawn experiencing sounds and seeing things glow when he looks at people who emotionally affect him, such as Violet. And now you know why this movie is called “The Sound of Violet.” Speaking of human senses, let’s not forget that Shawn doesn’t like to be touched, which is a challenge/frustration for Violet, who starts to grow fond of Shawn and wants to connect with him sexually.

“The Sound of Violet” gets into some more badly contrived drama about Shawn wanting to marry Violet, and a disgusted Ruth thinking that Violet is a gold digger who’s after Shawn’s inheritance. All might be forgiven if Violet gives up her “sinful” lifestyle and starts going to church with Shawn. Unfortunately, “The Sound of Violet” does almost nothing to adequately address the realities that sex workers need more than a few church services and a sweet-natured guy who’ll pay their expenses to heal from any trauma they experienced.

The movie also has a treacly and somewhat unnecessary subplot about Ruth finding love too. Her love interest is an elderly man named Douglas (played by Malcolm J. West), who works as a doorman in the building where Ruth and Shawn live. Douglas has apparently had a crush on Ruth for quite some time, but she’s still grieving over the death of her husband, and she doesn’t seem ready to start dating again. Ruth and Douglas attend the same church, so you know where this is going, of course.

The cast members’ overall acting in “The Sound of Violet” is not completely terrible, but it’s often wooden and not very convincing. This is a movie that irresponsibly pushes the story of an “against all odds” romance by oversimplifying complex issues such as autism and sex trafficking. The characters in the movie aren’t presented as well-rounded people but as stereotypes. And when it comes right down to it, “The Sound of Violet” is completely tone-deaf.

Atlas Distribution released “The Sound of Violet” in select U.S. cinemas on April 29, 2022.

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