Directed by: Max Minghella
Premise: A young woman (Elle Fanning) enters a televised singing competition. Under the guidance of her mentor (Zlatko Buric), she sharpens her skills and navigates the perils of show business.
What Works: Teen Spirit is a show business tale and the film presents that story with style and energy. The plot mostly adheres to the formula, as a young woman with musical talent rises from obscurity and becomes a star while coping with the perils of fame, but it is impressive how the filmmakers compress that story into such a brief period of time. Violet is a Polish immigrant living just above poverty. The young performer happens into a relationship with a former opera singer who offers to be her vocal coach and manager and he chaperones Violet through a televised singing competition. Once in the running for the grand prize, Violet allows herself to be overtaken by the temptations of life in the fast lane and she faces a crisis of integrity. This is essentially the same storyline seen in other show business films from A Star is Born to Walk the Line but playing it out over a few weeks rather than years softens the predictability of the plot and makes it feel fresh. Teen Spirit has tremendous energy. First time director Max Minghella uses the camera with confidence and creates images that incorporate the style of music videos and televised talent shows but with added formalistic flourishes like dramatic lighting and insert shots that enhance the meaning of the songs. The musical sequences are impressive and put on a show while also telling us about Violet’s mindset.
What Doesn’t: Teen Spirit runs a brisk ninety-three minutes. Perspicuity is one of the film’s core strengths but the narrative is so streamlined that the movie’s substance is shaved away. The conflicts and characters of Teen Spirit are shallow. The relationships between Violet and her mentor and with her mother (Agnieszka Grochowska) are positioned to give the story its emotional gravitas but they are never that poignant because those characters are underdeveloped. The story also fails to characterize Violet’s bandmates. We know the mother’s marriage failed and that the mentor is a washed up opera singer and it is implied that one of the band members has feelings for Violet but we never get any insight into these characters and they remain functions of her story instead of people with their own needs and desires. Teen Spirit still works as a musical and a show business story but it falls short of making the impact that it could have.
Bottom Line: Teen Spirit is an impressive style piece. The story short shrifts its characters and that keeps the movie merely good when it could have been great. But Teen Spirit is a polished and energetic piece of work and an impressive debut feature from filmmaker Max Minghella.
Episode: #747 (April 28, 2019)