I told you there were going to be surprises at TIFF, and I just found the first one in TEEN SPIRIT. From first time director Max Minghella (who you probably know as Nick on HANDMAID’S TALE), TEEN SPIRIT tells the story of Violet (Elle Fanning), a 17-year-old girl who lives on Isle of Wight with her immigrant Polish mother, but dreams of becoming a pop star. When she’s not spending her days at school being bullied or waitressing at a diner, she sneaks out of the house and sings in a local bar for a less-than-enthused crowd. When Vlad (Zlatko Buric), a new patron of the bar that just so happens to be a former opera singer, notices Violet’s immense talent, the two become fast friends. This friendship facilitates Violet trying out for an AMERICAN IDOL-style singing competition called TEEN SPIRIT that draws on contestants from across the UK. But will Violet’s inexperience on-stage and disapproving mother hurt her chances of winning the competition and securing a music contract?
First and foremost, the TEEN SPIRIT soundtrack is phenomenal! With cover songs from such artists as Ellie Goulding and Tegan and Sara, as well as a brand new song written for the film by Jack Antonoff, I can’t wait until it’s available for purchase. Just when you think Elle Fanning cannot get any more talented, she shows off her incredible pipes. She could easily have a career in the music industry; I am just shocked it took her this long to sing on-screen! And did I mention all of the singing in the movie was done live? I can’t imagine the skill and dedication it must have taken to maintain her vocals throughout all of the different takes during filming. It was also really cool that Fanning had the opportunity to make a brand new song her own, which you can hear playing over the closing credits. I can already hear her agent’s phone ringing off the hook for upcoming musical roles and I am sooooo here for it.
Another highlight of the film was its gorgeous cinematography, shot by a female cinematographer named Autumn Durald (PALO ALTO). Reminiscent of another of my favorite Elle Fanning films, NEON DEMON, the film has an awesome look and atmosphere. Violet’s world in Isle of Wight is more dreary and dark, but when she goes into the pop world, it is full of neon. I also loved the beautiful Terrence Malick-esque shots of Violet with her horse in the English countryside and how all of the songs almost felt like standalone music videos.
My theory that Elle Fanning does not make bad movies is once again reinforced with TEEN SPIRIT. She is one of the most dependable and talented actresses in the business and can do no wrong in any performance I have seen her in. Her ability to transition from a repressed teenager to an in-her-element pop star was critical for the film and I loved that Fanning really seemed to be having fun in the role. Her relationship and chemistry with Zlatko Buric was the heart of the movie, and what I found the most interesting was that at times I wasn’t even rooting for Violet to win Teen Spirit, I was more rooting for Vlad and Violet’s father-daughter relationship to win out. It’s easy to forget Rebecca Hall is even in the movie, who doesn’t really stand out in her small role as a Simon Cowell-esque singing competition judge. What could have been a meaty, memorable cameo from another actress is instead rather forgettable.
Minghella excels in his ability to put a unique spin and edge on a classic rags-to-riches fairytale. At only 92 minutes, it was remarkable how quickly he was able to bring to life deep, interesting characters that I was rooting for from start to finish. Usually movies like this are a bit predictable, but I was not convinced I knew whether this was going to end up having a happy ending or be a parable on the dangers of fame. I won’t tell you what it ends up being, but I’m glad Minghella’s fast-paced script kept me guessing.
My Review: A-