I love music. I love singing. I actually had vocal training in college and always have a soft spot for anything that has music and singing in it. So from that aspect, “Teen Spirit” sounded like an interesting film with a focus on the music competitions that are so in vogue and with a Cinderella-style story. After watching it, I’m impressed with Elle Fanning, both her performance as an actor and as a singer, the music is incredible with some intriguing visual imagery and the characters elevate the story.
Directed and written by Max Minghella in his directorial debut, “Teen Spirit” is about a shy teenager Violet (Elle Fanning) who dreams of escaping her small town and pursuing her dream of singing. She helps her mother, Maria (Agnieszka Grochowska), by working hard taking care of their land and a part-time job but when an international singing contest comes to the Isle of Wight, Violet enters with the hope of making the finals. In order to make it, though, she’s going to need the help of an unlikely mentor, Vlad (Zlatko Buric), a former opera singer. With his assistance, she has a chance but the competition will test her integrity, talent, and ambition.
Since this is a film about a music competition, music is one of the most important elements of the story. One of the parts I loved the most is Elle Fanning’s performance. Not only does she do all her own singing, but she is absolutely soulful in her vocals. The music chosen for the film is insightful, adding a visceral element. Even more critical, when Violet sings, the performance is overlain with visual vignettes of her life, adding important details from her life. I especially love the expressive contrast between Violet and the winner of the previous year, who sounds robotic, a commentary on the created stars of the music business. The music and the performances were my favorite part of the movie.
In addition to the music itself, is the view of what it takes to be a performer, to learn music, to learn the skills it takes to be not just good but excel as a singer is extremely riveting. In the film, the story focuses on her interaction with Vlad who becomes her teacher. His instruction and vocal training are authentic and realistic. We also see aspects of Violet being dressed to look the part and the training she needs to be able to perform with a band as well as how to move, to interact with the audience. Vlad’s advice every time she sings is rich in detail, such as sing from your heart and connect with the audience. These are all integral elements to being a skilled performer as singing is not just about the music but also how well you engage and share the emotions behind the words. This aspect of the music and the film were believable and well written.
The performances were incredible. Elle Fanning gives a stellar performance that truly enhances the film’s story. She came across as shy and withdrawn, struggling with the aspects of singing that were about connecting with the emotions but by the end of the film, we see such change in her character and Elle gives us an impactful portrayal. Zlatko Buric as Vlad was excellent, his characterization perfect, as a former star who sees potential in a young girl and wants a second chance through her. We also see how much he cares for her. His interactions with Agnieszka Grochowska who plays Maria, Violet’s mother is hilarious as she protects her daughter and ensures he will take care of her. Agnieszka Grochowska herself gives a powerful portrayal, her desire to keep her daughter close warring with her desire for Violet to be successful. Her performance is emotional.
The story itself is very much a take on the Cinderella story with a bit more grit and heart and the characters help drive the film. While there are some characters that take on aspects of cliches or stereotypes, this is in keeping with the commentary on the music business and the way they create stars out of contests such as the one portrayed in the film. What elevates this is the way Violet is not a stereotype, stays true to herself and the ending really worked well with that view of the music industry.
Where I felt any lack was in the filming of the story and that the story is predictable at times. Vlad and Violet are crucial to the story but their relationship feels rushed and it felt like we were missing some of the interactions between the two. Some of their relationship is shown in visuals flashes such as Violet looking up Vlad on her computer but overall, I wanted more time with the pair of them to see how they get to know each other and care about the other. The middle act of the film is particularly rushed and I wanted it to slow down a bit and give us a bit more time. Despite that, I really enjoyed the characters, the commentary on music contests and the music itself.
I think if you love music, you will enjoy this film. Elle Fanning and the cast are excellent, giving very character driven performances and the ending is fantastic. Elle does a stellar performance both in her acting as well as her singing. I love some of the filmography, especially how Violet’s character is developed through visual imagery and the music itself. Overall, I really loved the vibe of the film and the music.
Rating: 4 out of 5 microphones.