Film Review: “Teen Spirit” Delivers a Quick High and Long Low

Film poster: “Teen Spirit”

Teen Spirit (Max Minghella, 2018) 2 out of 4 stars. 

Actor Max Minghella’s directorial debut, Teen Spirit, deserves high marks for style, with its vibrant visuals and evocative editing. Unfortunately, the story the film tells is not up to the level of the mise-en-scène, leaving a deep void between form and content. Watching it is the equivalent of eating a delicious confection that appears to nourish yet leaves one empty after the sugar rush wears off. Despite its glossy surface and an appealing lead turn from star Elle Fanning (Galveston) – who also does all her own singing – Teen Spirit is ultimately just a retread of the many other, previous cinematic narratives about overcoming adversity (in this case, mild) to make it big as a star.

Minghella (Nick Blaine on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale) starts us off well, however, with lyrical images of Fanning, as protagonist Violet, a daughter of Polish immigrants living on England’s Isle of Wight, tending the farm on which she lives with her single mother (dad having decamped some time ago); she also works at the local pub at night. She’s a shy wallflower of a teenager, yet we see a glimpse of Violet 2.0 when she sings at the pub’s open-mic night. Sadly, there’s no one to see her talent, except for Vlad (Zlatko Buric, Comic Sans), a washed-up, alcoholic former opera star from Croatia who spends his time drinking and wallowing in nostalgia. Something in Violet touches him, however, and after she enters the nation’s “Teen Spirit” competition (a sort of “Britain’s Got Talent,” but exclusively for the younger set), he agrees to teach her proper singing techniques. A few (again, mild) dramatic reversals later and they are off to London for the main part of the contest.

Elle Fanning in TEEN SPIRIT ©LD Entertainment

I really loved each and every one of the filmed performances, with Minghella delivering a combination of beautiful montages and visceral vocals. Would that he did more with these elements than what lies beneath. Fanning commands the screen, although I hope that soon, now that she is 21, she will leave behind her adolescent-waif roles and find a way to segue into on-screen adulthood. Despite the positives, the underlying clichés of the structure prevent Teen Spirit from transcending the ordinary, making of it merely a well-dressed dullard, and nothing more.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Associate Editor and film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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