FILM REVIEW: Teen Spirit3 min readReading Time: 2 minutes
Violet is a shy teenager who dreams of escaping her small town and pursuing her passion to sing. With the help of an unlikely mentor, she enters a local singing competition that will test her integrity, talent and ambition. Driven by a pop-fueled soundtrack, Teen Spirit is a visceral and stylish spin on the Cinderella story.
Director: Max Minghella
Cast: Elle Fanning, Zlatko Buric, Agnieszka Grochowska, Rebecca Hall
Runtime: 93 min
Review by Leon Lau
By the time the blaring music and neon lights died down, I was won over by the Teen Spirit (2019). Not because of its energetic and admittedly striking visuals, but because of the tender and affectionate portrayal of its characters. This may be a story that is immediately familiar on its surface, but strong performances and sympathetic characters makes for a surprisingly engaging watch.
There is no getting around it though – Teen Spirit’s story of a young woman chasing her dreams of becoming a singer has been done to death. Plus, its coming hot off the trails of last year’s fantastic A Star Is Born. Comparisons were bound to be made, but Teen Spirit is a deliberately smaller film, with more emphasis being placed on the father and daughter relationship between Violet (Elle Fanning) and Vlad (Zlatko Buric).
Both actors take the cliches of their characters and embed it with plenty of nuance. Fanning is terrific as Violet, delivering a strong vocal and physical performance as the quiet girl with impossible dreams. But it’s Zlakko Buric who really drove the film forward for me. As the opera singer who has lost his former glory, he lends a tremendous amount of warmth and humour to the film as Violet’s unlikely mentor.
With his heavy accent and drunken stupor, his is an odd and brilliant match to play opposite the shy and reserved Violet. Their dynamic is what kept me glued to the screen. If you have seen any underdog story in the past decade, then there really isn’t much new here, and Violet’s journey ends up feeling predictable. Thankfully, the visuals help to pick up the narrative slack.
Actor Max Minghella makes his directorial debut here, and he injects the film with a visually visceral style. Tracking shots and long takes are liberally used to draw you into the moment, and the film is drenched in neon lights and fog. At times, its presentation comes across like a feature length music video, and there is a terrific sense of growing momentum as we go on a journey with these characters.
By the end of it though, I was left wanting more. The script plays it too safe, and lacks an iconic moment to help it stand out from the crowd. Nothing is bad by any means, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the moment, but the film doesn’t leave a lasting impression by the time the credits rolled.
Taken on its own terms, Teen Spirit is a strong debut film for director Max Minghella and features magnetic performances from Fanning and Buric. It’s hard to complain about the minor shortcomings of the film when you’re too busy being swept away by its allure and momentum.