TEEN SPIRIT ½
PG-13, 92 mins.
2019, PG-13, 92 mins.
Elle Fanning as Violet Valenski / Rebecca Hall as Jules / Zlatko Burić as Vladimir Brajkovic / Millie Brady as Anastasia / Agnieszka Grochowska as Marla
Written and directed by Max Minghella
Two thirds of TEEN SPIRIT work really well. It contains a winning lead performance as well as stylish and evocative direction by a rookie director. The remaining third of the film, though, that regrettably doesn't work is its screenplay, which wallows in a lot of tired underdog formulas that we've frankly been exposed to countless times before.
TEEN SPIRIT is an
inspirational musical drama about a young downtrodden woman trying to
attain super pop stardom by escaping from the doldrums of her monotonous
and fractured family life.
Everything proceeds with unsurprising predictability throughout
TEEN SPIRIT, leaving it feel a bit too thematically simplistic for its own
good and lacking in narrative freshness.
But it nevertheless remains seriously well acted and is shot with a
lot of stylistic grace, perhaps more so than I was expecting from a script
on pure autopilot.
The terrific Elle
Fanning plays a shy and introverted teenager named Violet, who resides in a
small village on Isle of Wight with her Polish mother (Agnieszka
Grochowska), the latter who lives a deeply pragmatic life of working hard first and
having fun a very distant second.
Violet's life outside of home kind of sucks as well: She works a
job that she thoroughly loathes, generally takes a dislike to anything at
school, and has next to no social life beyond that.
She has one saving grace, though: She has an angelic singing voice
that she frequently lets loose at many open mic nights at various
establishments around her village.
While on stage, she's a vocal force of nature, but off stage she's
basically an emotional wreck of girl.
If only something or someone would appreciate and nurture her
talent to allow for her to hit the big time and fully realize all of her
potential as a singer.
Well, fate does,
as it's accustomed to, steps in during one of those open mic sessions when
she's greeted by one of the few people in the audience that acknowledges
and appreciates her skills.
He's Vlad (Zlatko Buric), who informs her that he knows talent when
he sees and hears it and wants to take it upon herself to become her
mentor and manager (it's revealed that the man himself once had a storied
career as a tenor in his own right).
Initially, she rejects Vlad, but when it soon becomes apparent that
she'll get no assistance from her domineering mother, Violet decides to
let him teach her the ropes, which comes in extremely handy when a
British singing competition called Teen Spirit hits the Isle and beacons the
young star-to-be to come out of her inhibited shell and become the
sensation she has always dreamt of being.
Of course, multiple road blocks impede her journey, some of which
include rivalries on the show, her own mother's interference, and
the nagging stage fright of appearing on live TV in front of millions of
It should be
noted that Fanning does all of her own singing throughout the film, and
she emerges as an extraordinary talent in this regard, giving several
phenomenal covers of classic songs.
What's compelling, though, about her performance is that she not
only has to be an utterly convincing singer, but she also has to project
the frailties and anxieties that typifies Violet.
She's essentially a small town girl that's not very warm,
friendly, or outgoing, which does negatively impact her celebrity persona
(she may have a tremendously empowered voice, but with little on-stage
personality and charm her chances of mainstream success are slim).
If anything, Violet is an impressionable girl that lives in
perpetual withdrawal, with only music serving as her cathartic outlet of
Fanning's work here is so layered and authentic that it often helps
override the film's scripting deficiencies.
And one of the
big dilemmas with TEEN SPIRIT is that Fanning's performance is far better
than the written character on the page.
Violet isn't really developed as richly and fully as she should be
here, which has an awful lot to do with the fact that the film is simply
too rushed and short to allow for this character to simmer and allow for
audiences to thoroughly get inside her headspace.
That's not to say that Violet isn't a likeable persona in TEEN
SPIRIT, just one that we really are not given much back story or
information on to make us thoroughly invest in her, beyond the screenplay,
of course, telling us that she's an underdog that has to overcome
Another complication of the film being too abridged for its own
good is that it really has no time to say anything compellingly profound
about the music industry or talent shows.
I've never thought highly of the multiple music programs like The
Voice or American Idol for a variety of superficial reasons, and I also never
gained much insight into what TEEN SPIRIT thinks of them either.
To be fair, though, the film rightfully captures the addictively
alluring nature of watching these programs and how the most empty minded
pop tunes can come expressively to life when sung by just the right
here is from Max Minghella, who also serves as director, making his
feature film debut.
He's no stranger to the small and silver screen as an actor (he
currently can be seen on TV's sensational THE HANDMAID'S TALE) and he grew
up in the presence of his Oscar winning director father in Anthony (THE
Whereas potent scripting may not be Minghella's strong suit here,
he most definitely makes up for it with the aesthetic flare that he gives
TEEN SPIRIT, which helps elevates the triviality of the screenplay
Visually, this film looks better than it perhaps has any right of
being, and even though Minghella and cinematographer Autumn Durald are guilty at times of making many key moments in the film come off
like artfully staged music videos, there's still such a kaleidoscope of
boundless energy and vivacious color
exploding on screen that you're willing to forgive Minghella for
being a bit too artistically ostentatious.
Plus, he really knows how to shoot the already limitlessly
photogenic Fanning and make her look like a movie star.
yeah, TEEN SPIRIT is so achingly familiar with its story beats, and when
it boils right down to it, Manghella's script really doesn't offer much in
terms of depth or innovation.
The story goes from point A to B and finally to C with
unimaginative precision, and the central conceit of a person from humble
beginnings learning to find her inner confidence through the
transformative power of the arts is as old as the movies.
Even when the film throws in the great Rebecca Hall, for example,
to chew scenery as a seductive and tough talking record exec that drives a
riff between Violet and her aging coach it feels like recycled material
from other better genre films.
And maybe in comparison to other singer/showbiz themed dramas as
of late, like the superb A STAR IS
BORN, TEEN SPIRIT doesn't seem to have
to drive or nerve to transcend its well worn material in any meaningful or
The film has a memorable spunk, is handsomely shot, and contains a
deeply assured leading lady carrying it, but beyond that TEEN SPIRIT
has the fleeting entertainment value of a dutifully manufactured pop song
that you probably won't be humming in the shower in a week's time.