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Review: Teen Spirit

April 19, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The directorial debut of actor Max Minghella, Teen Spirit follows Violet (Elle Fanning), a 17-year-old in a small town on the Isle of Wight in the UK who dreams of becoming a pop star.

Despite her mother’s (Agnieszka Grochowska) best wishes, who would rather that her daughter just remain singing in the church choir, Violet enters a singing competition, bringing along Vlad (Zlatko Buric), an alcoholic former opera singer who hears her sing at a local karaoke bar and recognizes her raw talent, as her guardian and manager.

This is a pretty standard and fairly predictable story of a young singer trying to make it big, and the surface-deep screenplay by Minghella doesn’t really do enough to distinguish Teen Spirit from countless other stories of underdog performers trying to navigate their newfound fame. The film is uneven in spots, and also clearly inferior to the recent and similarly themed A Star is Born and Vox Lux, which presented much more interesting and nuanced stories of young female singers trying to make it big as pop stars.

But Teen Spirit is still kinda enjoyable in fits and starts, even if it does feel more like an extended music video at times. Fanning is quite good in the lead, doing all her own singing and offering a very credible portrayal of a teen pop star. The film also looks incredibly stylish, with Autumn Durald’s neon-coloured cinematography making use of deep purple and red tones that give Teen Spirit a visually pleasing pop concert aesthetic.

The film’s musical numbers are flashy and entertaining enough to watch, and the soundtrack offers a solid selection of recognizable modern pop song from artists like Robyn, Ellie Goulding and Tegan & Sara. There’s also an original song called “Wildflowers,” which is actually a previously unreleased track written by Carly Rae Jepsen that is performed by Fanning’s character in the film and sounds like a ready-made pop hit.

Teen Spirit is now playing in limited release in select theatres across Canada.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

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