I feel compelled to admit that I was not looking forward to our screening of TEEN SPIRIT. While I totally adore Elle Fanning, the thought of a movie entitled TEEN SPIRIT, based on a singing competition of the same name, was cringe-inducing. I am not now --- nor have I ever been --- a fan of "American Idol", "The Voice", "America's Got Talent", etc.
In fact, I even had an exit strategy, which I also NEVER do. I was psyching myself up for a huge disappointment --- and I had forgotten my eyeglasses --- so I told David if I didn't like the first half hour, we would leave and use the issue of me not being able to see well enough as our excuse.
Well, as has happened before --- and will happen again --- I was completely wrong. TEEN SPIRIT, though I still don't like the title, is a terrific showcase for Fanning's talents and an impressive directorial debut for Max Minghella, who also wrote the screenplay, edited his film and served as Executive Producer.
Violet (Fanning) is a high school student living on the Isle of Wight with her beautiful Polish-immigrant mother, Marla (Agnieszka Grochowska). Her world revolves around pop music. When she isn't at school or waitressing after school, Violet is always listening to music via her iPod and singing. She sings when she's performing her menial chores, spending time with the horse or dancing around in her bedroom.
Violet even manages to slip away to a tacky pub where she can perform at an open mic night. It's there that she meets Vlad (Zlatko Buric), an old washed-up alcoholic, who lives in his van. But Vlad, who was once an opera star, knows about music and singing --- and sees something in Violet she doesn't even see in herself. When the nationally-known competition in the U.K., "Teen Spirit", comes to her little village, Violet auditions. And with Vlad as her new mentor, she makes it all the way to the finals in London.
When you read the synopsis, it can sound very formulaic. Poor, shy girl meets down-on-his-luck ex-singer who coaches her to stardom, but actually TEEN SPIRIT is much better than that. Most importantly, Fanning's performance is outstanding, which transcends TEEN SPIRIT from a run-of-the-mill pop star movie to one that features great music and her ability to sing, including an original song entitled "Wildflowers" written for her by Carly Rae Jepsen, Jack Antonoff and Tavish Crowe.
Minghella is a huge admirer of the pop music genre. Fanning has dubbed him its "number one fan" and he himself has stated his deep belief in "music's ability to create a visceral cinematic effect". He's been working on this project since 2009, but choosing Fanning as his lead changed his original story a bit. Everyone connected to the film was electrified by her growth as a pop performer. She spent many months working with Marius de Vries, the executive producer. Fanning performs all of the singing in TEEN SPIRIT live.
TEEN SPIRIT isn't necessarily going to win any awards, but it's a solid film about finding your voice, no matter what you choose to do with your life. Minghella's script is honest and believable, and it's definitely made that much better by Fanning's remarkable turn.
Opinion: See It Now!
TEEN SPIRIT is unabashedly fashioned after one of TV's reality talent shows, be it "The Voice" or "American Idol". The film is the brain child of 33-year-old writer/director Max Minghella. You may have seen him in THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and "The Handmaid's Tale" on Hulu.
The movie stars Elle Fanning as the waitress/singer wannabe, Violet. And the girl CAN sing. Fanning really has a terrific voice and stage presence. Her character can also dance. Wait till you see her moves in the privacy of her own bedroom. That Fanning does her own singing obviously lends the story total credibility. TEEN SPIRIT, Minghella's feature film directorial debut, is surprisingly entertaining.
Much of the movie's appeal lies in the budding relationship between Violet and a much, much older man named Vlad (Zlatko Buric). When Violet performs in a local pub before a sparse audience, it is Vlad, and Vlad alone, who applauds her number, and very enthusiastically. Initially this has the look of a rather unseemly acquaintance, but it is handled appropriately. Violet wants to try out for the British show known as Teen Spirit, but she needs an adult, so she enlists Vlad, and he agrees on the condition that he be her manager with a 50-50 split.
Violet's mother, Marla (Agnieszka Grochowska), initially reluctant that her daughter should pursue a singing career, eventually agrees, but with Vlad only getting 15 per cent. Later, when Violet becomes the talk of her town and everyone is glued to the "telly", it is Marla who is on pins and needles. Minghella knows how to sell his film as if it was, in fact, an actual reality show.
Veteran Rebecca Hall plays Jules, a record company exec who offers Violet a contract, but with a very specific condition. Violet's decision also could severely impact her friendship with Vlad, thus she faces a true dilemma in her young life.
I can heartily recommend TEEN SPIRIT which doesn't overstay its welcome at a mere 1:32 running time. As for Fanning, who just turned 21 on April 9th, she has 60 acting credits on IMDb, putting her on a par with her older sister, Dakota.
Opinion: See It Now!