Saturday, 9 November 2019

Teen Spirit ★★★★☆

Young girl wants to be a musician. Older mentor with experience in the business guides her. All the odds are against her. She succeeds. The end. Yeah, we’ve seen it all before. With five versions of A Star Is Born out there alone, this is clearly a story that continues to resonate with people. And with so many of these films available, it sure is difficult to do anything even remotely fresh with the subgenre. Enter Teen Spirit, the directorial debut from Max Minghella, a powerful little indie with something to say.

Now the premise of the film doesn’t exactly inspire confidence - a shy teenager (Elle Fanning) dreams of escaping her small town and pursuing her passion to sing. With the help of an unlikely mentor (Zlatko Buric), she enters a local singing competition that will test her integrity, talent and ambition. While this plot description could be applied to a hundred films before it, something about Teen Spirit resonates a little different. 

The heroine of the story, Violet Valenski (Fanning), is an interesting character. Living on the Isle of Wight, she lives with her mother (Agnieszka Grochowska) and sisters – the father left a long time ago. Violet struggles to make ends meet working as a waitress as her mother disapproves of her ‘unrealistic’ dreams of being a popstar, reminding Violet that she is in the church choir and that “God is the only audience she needs”. When Violet has the chance to enter a television talent programme for teens, she sees an opportunity to become a star and escape her cold, dark and lonely existence. With the help of an ex-opera singer, Violet embarks on a journey of self-discovery. 

Teen Spirit is really a coming-of-age drama more than a Star is Born music tale. Whilst the themes from the latter subgenre are certainly here in great abundance with all clichés present, the film is at its best when it focuses on the characters and the relationship between Violet and her mentor Vlad. While most films of this nature are built around the romantic relationship between budding star and teacher, here it is a heart-warming friendship and even an almost family bond that is shared between the two tortured and lonely individuals. Buric is incredible as Vlad, bringing an immense heart to the film while Fanning is utterly magnificent as Violet. The film’s many musical scenes show that Fanning could easily have had a career as a musician – and maybe still will – as I would argue her popstar prowess exceeds her acting ability considerably. The climactic scene of Violet singing Sigrid’s Don’t Kill My Vibe is a true star is born moment that will surely have record execs across the world on the phone to Fanning’s agent.

The film’s neon-soaked visuals are stunning too, with the musical numbers feeling entirely like music videos thanks to stellar artistic visual flair from cinematographer Autumn Durald who has created videos for Arcade Fire, London Grammar and Haim. The film’s soundtrack is certainly a pop lover's dream too, featuring performances of and music written by Robyn, Ellie Goulding, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Tegan & Sara, Annie Lennox, Orbital, Alice Deejay, The Undertones, Major Lazer, Grimes, Whigfield, and Sigrid – not to mention an original song by Carly Rae Jepsen. While I don’t particularly like pop, I couldn’t help but tap my toes to the wall-to-wall synthy bangers on this soundtrack.

Teen Spirit was a big surprise – while I expected nothing from it, thinking I’d seen it all before, I was utterly engrossed throughout. Sure, the plot doesn’t exactly take any steps into the unknown and the ending can be easily predicted from the premise alone, but there is a real warmth between the two lead characters here and real depth that feels full of heart. I was won over by Teen Spirit and I think you will be too.

Sam Love

Teen Spirit at CeX

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