“TEEN SPIRIT” is the directorial debut of Max Minghella who also pens this script about a shy teenager from a single parent family and a small town that pursues her dreams to become a singer. She randomly meets an older man that is troubled from his past in the business having fallen from his glory days in the opera. Together they form an unlikely bond with one another as this girl works to become the superstar most think she can never be. Now I will admit this movie isn’t necessarily aimed for my age bracket. But something that can appeal to everyone is an underdog story.
The synopsis for this one may mention that it’s a stylish, modern-day spin on the Cinderella story. It may have been, but I couldn’t tell you. What made this film entertaining for me was the fact it reminded me of a “Rocky” movie. A small-town girl not having the traditional support system around her. No one but an unlikely friend will believe in her as she rises from nothing on her talents to try and become a star. What isn’t there to find inspirational about that to make you want to see how the story will end?
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I think the casting of Elle Fanning as the lead was a fantastic choice. She brought this film a multi-dimensional performance that I think will be easy for people to connect with. She was down-to-earth and came across as normal, with all the trepidation and angst a teenager could feel. Fanning was able to capture the unhappiness she felt in her life. She had roles to fill as a worker, a daughter, a student, and while she went about it without complaint, you can sense the lifelessness in her persona. When the music is injected into the film is when the character roars to life. Something Fanning captured with a natural energy that perfectly sold the plot-line and her place in it.
When she is engaged in the music Violet is visibly free. She’s unhinged and the bliss she conveyed connected to me. This showed how the music was her passion, her emotional freedom, and what truly made her happy. This is when the free-spirit of Violet shines bright and it made me root for her success. Along the way she meets an older man who once was a singer in the opera. Zlatko Buric was excellent in the role of Vlad. He has a troubled past of his own and the way this story unites them felt very genuine. There was a natural progression to their friendship that I felt was able to hit all the needed dramatic beats as it evolved without ever feeling melodramatic which is something I always appreciate. However, I would have liked to see the story spend a few more scenes on the foundation of Vlad’s backstory to connect with me more than through the usual genre tropes.
Despite that though I felt Buric and Fanning captured an authentic chemistry with one another. As they learn more about each other and become closer I enjoyed seeing how the visual progression of the performances captured that. It made their connection feel real and not scripted. It evolved from a stranger/teenager dynamic to that of a father/daughter one in a sense and it was compelling to see grow. This was a good thing because it was a major arc in the film, and it complemented Violet’s attempted journey to success very well for creating emotional intrigue on its own.
The story progression itself may not have been overly unique. But I felt the infusion of personality from the two leads was certainly was able to make up for some of the shortcomings in the narrative. This was a familiar story and it does get predictable at times, but it wasn’t a major drawback. Primarily because it was easy to invest in the journey of both Violet and Vlad. It doesn’t try to work in too many subplots, so the progression is continual. It weaves through a blend of traditional story-telling, musical performances, and nostalgic styled music montages to keep the atmosphere fresh. These segments are nicely shot from first time director Max Minghella. He also wrote this script and it was clear he had a vision and tone that he wanted to accomplish.
It was tightly edited with a strong artistic flair that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was vibrant with color and lighting techniques that give it a music video feel at times which works for the subject-matter. It all creates an artistic vibe that feels both stylish and edgy when needed and with constant visual-appeal Minghella must be given credit for delivering a beautifully crafted film. I had a good time with it and found it much more attention grabbing than I was expecting. Fanning was amazing in the lead and she pours her heart into it to create a character you want to see succeed.
The story-line works in a couple turns that were mildly unexpected which was a good thing. The music other than a short stretch was solid and was effective in adding strong doses of energy to the story. Some of the ‘boy-band pop’ was a little much for me, but again I’m a little past the targeted age range. It does however weave an inspirational story that shows effort and is worth a shot if you enjoy films like these. Or if you like seeing great performances because Fanning without question delivers one that elevates the material and commands the screen in the most unassuming way.