Rob Reviews "Teen Spirit"
I know that a large majority of films that are pitched to studios come with the tag of “it’s (x film) meets (y film),” but at what point are there too many borrowed plots in the same hour and a half? I mean, maybe I am looking a bit too far into star of “The Handmaid’s Tale”s Max Minghella’s directorial/solo writing debut “Teen Spirit,” but I might not be that far off either.
Elle Fanning plays Violet here, a Polish girl living on the Isle of Wight with her single mother, going to high school during the day and waiting tables at night to help them make ends meet. Violet has a heck of a voice for a girl of her age but due to the amount of responsibilities put upon her only allows her to use it with her church teen choir. She ends up taking a chance on a UK singing competition using a washed-up opera star (Zlatko Buric) as her guardian/manager and goes on a wild ride to what she hopes to be the top.
So, take the working class girl aspect of “Flashdance” (without the dancing… there is even use of the theme song in the film itself) with the sage mentor/young mentee theme of “The Karate Kid” (with no real steady or clear antagonist) and throw in the format of “American Idol,” and there you have it. This script seems more like a series of music videos strung together as a longer form video that ventures into avant garde at times to the point where I had to take a minute to piece together where I was in the story. (Honestly, “Love is a Battlefield” did it better.) Visually, Minghella dances through pastels for the high energy moments while dwelling in more muted and darker tones when the emotion asks for it, like Vlad’s “home” and when Violet tries to simply blend into her surroundings versus the performance pieces themselves and the set design for the show as its spectacle unfolds in the third act.
Luckily, Fanning has an immense level of talent that carries “Teen Spirit” on every level. From playing a character outside of herself to doing her own singing of songs both new and updates of the old, her performance here is spot-on. Being a person of a certain age myself, I at no point found myself becoming “old man Rob” with the soundtrack and am actually kind of interested in having it in a playlist on my phone.
I truly see this film becoming one of those that finds new life in a cult status, showing late nights on the weekend as a time capsule to those of a certain age remembering when. It’s still fun, but it loses points with this voter as it meandered through itself into places with no payoff except to get the script from one scene (kind of) to another.