Telling the same rags-to-riches story that has been told thousands of times over throughout history, “Teen Spirit,” written and directed by actor Max Minghella in his directorial debut, is an uncompromising, in-the-moment music drama that is both filled with moments of surprising maturity and sugary pop sweetness. Not shying away from formula, it uses a generic formula for the story to allow the rest of the film — the setting, characters, relationships and music — to develop and take center stage, a huge risk that would have turned against “Teen Spirit” had the performances been lacking. Thankfully, that creative decision more than pays off and makes “Teen Spirit” the neon-colored success that it is.
A shy, introverted teenager from the Isle of Wight, Violet constantly feels out of place. Helping her Polish mother keep financially afloat, her time outside of school is spent either working at a local diner or completing various chores around the farm. Using what little free time she has to dream about being a popstar and practice singing, she auditions at the last minute for a British music contest called “Teen Spirit” and is surprised to find out she is accepted to go further. Being taken under the wing of an unlikely mentor, Violet’s integrity, abilities and want to succeed are tested every step of the way, separating the small-town farm girl she once was from the rising star she visualizes herself becoming. “Teen Spirit” is a colorful blend of flashy, youthful spectacle and quiet, understated humanity.
Surprisingly artful for being about a fictional reality show, the film's characters move and sing around the weakest parts of the film, instead propelling forward with a fantastic soundtrack of female musicians like Grimes, Ellie Goulding and Robyn. Though its handling of the duality of Violet’s quiet, introverted nature and her increasingly loud environment is clumsy and sophomoric at moments, those issues never become a glaring issue, and instead felt under the surface and somewhat excusable for a first-time director. Though not as charming as “Sing Street” or uniquely memorable as “Almost Famous” or “Vox Lux,” “Teen Spirit” still has just that: spirit.
Well edited both as a film and in individual sequences, the film's ever-present questioning of the need for privacy and individuality in an ever public world and how willingly many would give it up is perfectly balanced through its blend of bright, fast-moving music sequences and scenes showing the understated, impassive peace of the natural world. Far from perfect, many small things overlooked and cliches fallen into make it clear that “Teen Spirit” is Max Minghella’s first time on the other side of the camera. However, Elle Fanning proves herself as a powerfully minimalist leading lady, the rest of the cast beautifully complimenting her journey as Violet. Clever, easily digestible and exciting, “Teen Spirit” is, beyond its flaws, a thoroughly enjoyable movie about music.
Rose Dunton, originally of Nampa, has been living in Pocatello for the past four years. Proficient in Japanese, she is an avid film buff.