Starring Elle Fanning, Zlatko Buric, Agnieszka Grochowska, Rebecca Hall
A few things to note, don’t judge Teen Spirit on it’s poster. For one, it’s not your average teenager – wants to become a rock-star movie, this is an indie flick with slightly more to say. Second, it’s also not a Nichols Winding Refn movie, despite how the poster is crushing on his work (I bet Max Minghella is a fan). Which leads us to the more important point, Max Minghella (actor making his directorial debut) does not have his late father Anthony’s magical touch. Teen Spirit is a tricky film, at first glance you think you know what your getting, but from the opening credits and well into the first act, there is welcome surprise to the stories background and characters. The premise is structured a bit like the recent Fighting with My Family; isolated English girl wants to get out of her small existence, embracing a singing reality competition to make that happen.
Violet’s early mornings consist of tossing bales of hay, feeding the animals and grooming the horses. After chores, she is off to school, where she is the reserved, quiet, farm girl, not cool enough to hang with the popular crowd. Finally, 17-year-old Violet (Fanning) joins her single mother at work on most evenings, where they both waitress as a local bar. Violet hides the fact she plans to audition for Teen Spirit UK, which has come to their small island of White for the first time. In need of a guardian to sign up, she asks one of the local patrons, Vlad (Buric) who at first just appears to be a drunken flirt. Turns out, Vlad was an opera superstar back in his day. He appoints himself manager, and when she makes it through the initial tryouts, they both have to sit down with her strict Polish mother to break the news.
Either Minghella didn’t know how to finish the story, or he hasn’t seen enough of these types of films to realize how repetitious his outcome is.
Minghella, who also wrote the screenplay, really makes the viewer think we are going on a different journey than all the previous rise and fall musical ambition films. There is a scene where Violet sings her first song on stage that’s so well edited, giving the audience a deeper look into her life. This sequence is the best in the entire film, still fueling the promise of taking this particular musical drama trope in a different direction. The witty banter between Violet and Vlad is the heart of Teen Spirit; Sure he’s filling the all too predictable father figure she is missing (and she the daughter he is estranged from). Both actors are at their best during these interactions.
When the films shifts and the characters leave for London, it’s game over with the originality and nose dives into exactly what you feared the movie was going to be in the first place. Country girl goes wild in the city, hangs out with the wrong people, is easily influenced, etc etc. It’s a total mess and becomes this predictable movie we assumed it would be from the beginning, it just takes a while to get there. Sadly where it ends up invalidates all the nice work Minghella pulled off in the first act. Either he didn’t know how to finish the story, or he hasn’t seen enough of these types of films to realize how repetitious his outcome is.
Teen Spirit starts strong but them bombs into a bunch of genre clichés by the end.