Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Movie Review: Teen Spirit

Teen Spirit ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Max Minghella.
Written by: Max Minghella.
Starring: Elle Fanning (Violet), Agnieszka Grochowska (Marla), Archie Madekwe (Luke), Zlatko Buric (Vlad), Millie Brady (Anastasia), Vivian Oparah (Kelli), Ria Zmitrowicz (Hayley), Olive Gray (Lisa), Andrew Ellis (Roger), Marius De Vries (Marcus), Elizabeth Berrington (Lorene), Rebecca Hall (Jules), Alice Parkin (Young Violet), Tamara Luz Ronchese (Angel X), Johnny Vaughan (Teen Spirit Emcee), Ruairi O'Connor (Keyan Spears), Richard Leeming (Yuriy), Tristan Whincup (Thomas King), Clara Rugaard (Roxy), Daisy Lowe (Teen Spirit Host).
There are times when you watch a movie and simply wonder why this story? Why did this director feel the need to tell this story, at this time? Is there something personal here? A larger societal point he’s trying to make? Is it simply for fun? And sometimes, when you watch, you really cannot tell any reason why. And its frustrating. Teen Spirit is a movie like that. It’s not a bad film – not really. Elle Fanning is, as always, a charming performer, and this movie gives her some great musical moments to sink her teeth into. And yet, it feels like a movie 15 years too late. Why make a movie about an American Idol type singing competition now? Why set it on the Isle of Wight in the UK, to a Polish Immigrant mother? Why give her a Croatian Opera singer as her down and out mentor and coach? What is the film saying about any of this?
It's frustrating, especially given how in the last year we’ve been given not one, but two movies about pop music that definitely do have a point a view – Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born and Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux. Both have a lot to say about the nature of pop stardom – and pop music itself. The one thing Teen Spirit gets absolutely right is the power of pop music – how a good song can transport you, make you a different person, if only for the length of time of that song. The best moments in Teen Spirit are the moments when it’s protagonist – Violent (Fanning) – is singing. For those few moments, she is in another world – a dreamlike state. And then she is forced back into reality when it’s done.
Perhaps this could work, but it’s such a clichéd reality that’s it’s tough to take it at all seriously. Fanning is a dreamer – she wants to be a singer, but she’s shy. She has a mother (Agnieszka Grochowska) who is caring and a hard worker – but doesn’t want to see her daughter hurt, so she at first refuses to let her participate. There is a gruff, drunken mentor (Zlatko Buric) who was once an opera star in Croatia – but now pretty much lives in squalor – but he believes in her. There are love interests and mean girls at school. When the competition gets going – and the action is transferred to London there’s a greedy record exec (Rebecca Hall), a beautiful rival, a charming teen star who may be interested, etc. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before – done better.
The film was written and directed by Max Minghella – who up until now has been an actor in things like The Social Network and The Handmaid’s Tale. He is the son of the late, great Anthony Minghella (who won an Oscar for his worst film – The English Patient). He knows how to make a movie. The movie is well put together and well-acted. I just couldn’t figure out what he was trying to say. Even had the film come out at the peak of American Idol’s influence – Minghella’s film lacks a point-of-view on it, and what it all means – s0 what we’re really left with is a rather empty experience – not an unpleasant one – but an empty one.

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