Elle Fanning is one of today’s biggest indie darlings, proving herself to be an electric screen presence. One of the industry’s most exciting young actresses, Fanning’s resume is pretty extensive for a twenty one year-old. In Max Minghella’s directorial debut Teen Spirit, Fanning stars as a young woman whose angelic voice takes her to an national singing competition. A fun entry to the “showbiz” film genre, Teen Spirit is a modern Cinderella story that takes its heroine on an adventure from a small town to the big time.
In the past year, films with flawed female artists have hit cinemas, and have sparked important conversations. Vox Lux, Her Smell, and A Star is Born depict some heavy subjects, but Teen Spirit is a lighthearted and optimistic view into the music industry. Mining inspiration from the likes of singing competitions such as American Idol and The Voice, Teen Spirit follows the circus of competition, and the passion for the underdog.
Violet (Elle Fanning) is a working class student on the Isle of Wight, a picturesque little island off the coast of England. Her days are spent in school, but at night she works to support her mother Marla (Agnieszka Grochowska). While Violet endures the endless cycle of school and work, she seems bored and detached. Her main comfort is found through music, listening to her iPod, and dancing alone in her bedroom. Marla realizes that Violet loves to sing, but encourages her to focus on work, and sing for God. Eager to protect her daughter, Marla doesn’t want Violet to experience disappointment.
A couple nights a week, Violet sneaks off to the local dive bar to sing. While there, we realize that Violet has a special talent that’s largely hidden from the world. However, frequent bar patron Vlad (Zlatco Buric) takes notice. Shortly after, the world notices too.
For the first time ever, popular singing competition Teen Spirit comes to the Isle of Wight for auditions. Violet takes a shot, and advances forward. Still hiding her ambitions from Marla, Violet enlists Vlad as her manager for the competition. A former opera singer, Vlad revisits his love of music by coaching Violet.
In a twist of fate, Violet makes the final cut and goes to London for the national telecast. At the beginning of the film, Violet clings to the fringes of society, but overnight she gets her first taste of fame. She becomes a hometown heroine, causing a whirlwind of excitement among her peers. She’s the first of the island to ever reach the Teen Spirit Finals, and she gains a rather large fanbase. In London, Violet’s will is tested, as well as her relationship with Vlad. Over the course of a few days, fame quickly meddles with Violet’s mind. With a recording contract offer, and a new life of wealth on the horizon, Violet faces some major decisions.
For my viewing of Teen Spirit, I was able to see it in the theater entirely alone, and it is the best way I could have experienced it. Teen Spirit isn’t revolutionary, but it’s a feelgood film that transports you to another realm for a while. The singing sequences feel like music videos intertwined together, and the music pulses through the surround sound, creating a concert-like atmosphere in the theater. The soundtrack is infused with music from pop artists such as Katy Perry, Grimes, Ellie Goulding, Robyn, and more. In his debut, Max Minghella understands the power of music and how it can evoke emotion.
While we follow Violet on her journey, we are able to experience her emotions as she performs and encounters fame. Elle Fanning’s performance is solid, using her real singing voice to elevate the film. Fanning is believable as a fledgling pop sensation, but audiences will wish to get more of her. We’re intriqued by Violet, and want her desperately to win. However, it’s also fun to see her competitors perform. Zlatco Buric’s Vlad is the core of Teen Spirit, as he brings a vulnerability and heart to his role. Overall, Teen Spirit is easily enjoyable, especially for those who love music and showbiz films. It’s the kind of film that is pleasing to the senses, and will have you singing along.