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Teen Spirit: Fanning excels in formulaic rags to riches pop story

June 30, 2019

Film + EntertainmentReview | by Candid Magazine

Director Max Minghella’s first film is filled with impressive visuals, choreography and camera work; but these are secondary to the on-screen talent who work hard at fleshing out the formulaic plot of this film. Teenager Violet (Ella Fanning) is a shy girl living on the Isle of Wight with dreams of being a pop star, far far away from her working-class life on a farm with her Polish mother (Agnieszka Grochowska). Opportunity knocks when the auditions for the latest TV singing competition Teen Spirit begin and Violet puts herself forward.

Violet spends her evenings after school working at a bar where she can sing for extra money and practice being on stage – a small and sticky stage – but she hits it off with one of the regulars, Vlad (Zlatko Buric). Vlad is a gentle giant and believes Violet has a talented singing voice, revealing he was once a famous opera singer. When the competition starts, Violet needs a guardian, so she turns to Vlad rather than her strict mother. This is not the first coming-of-age film focused on a big break, but Teen Spirit acts like it is, making little attempt to make the story deviate from what anyone would expect.

Teen Spirit is bursting with pop song covers and instrumentals, the montage of Violet’s first round of auditions is exquisitely filmed to show the pressures and agony of auditioning in a room full of teenagers. Dreams are broken and made throughout the competition, with Violet centre stage. Vlad forms the comic relief but also fits into the broken-master role, using his time in the opera to train Violet in singing techniques. The film briefly touches on Vlad’s fall from grace as Romania’s best opera singer to a drunk on the Isle of Wight, weirdly when the film feels desperate to fill its running time, specifically in the final act, the focus could have been put on him. Instead we’re given a rather cliché sub-plot where Violet is offered an (obviously bad) contract before the contest ends.

Elle Fanning stars in Teen Spirit.

At points the plot feels more modern and earnest, than it ends up being. Violet and Luke (Archie Madekwe) flirt awkwardly in a club and then continue to share a chemistry that feels natural. Meanwhile the mother-daughter relationship has the added dynamic of being an immigrant story; offering viewers another perspective. An ethically diverse mix cast, adds depth and culture – somescenes between Violet and her mother are spoken in Polish.

Neon lights, flashy outfits and emotive dance scenes give the musical portion of the film flair and excitement, which is necessary when the plot continues to toe the line. Before the final act the film really drags, losing most of the momentum it had built up. The final song packs a punch because Elle Fanning and co are playing their parts so well, with such composure you feel like they deserved a meatier script. Teen Spirit works on a level anyone can enjoy and the film is a feast for the eyes and ears at least.

Teen Spirit is released in UK cinemas 26th July 2019.

Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam.

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