Film Review: ‘Teen Spirit’: Musical Talent Is on the Rise

BY Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years’ experience as a New York professional actor, working in theater, commercials, and soap operas. He has a classical theater training and a BA in philosophy from Williams College. As a voice actor, he recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook, “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World.” Mark's professors suggested he become a professional writer. He became a professional actor instead. Now he writes professionally about acting. In the movies.
March 3, 2019 Updated: March 3, 2019

PG-13 | | Drama, Music | 5 April 2019 (USA)

Aliens and Martians, observing planet Earth, couldn’t be faulted for coming to the conclusion that humans just want to sing: karaoke, Broadway, “American Idol,” “The Voice,” “La La Land.” Our collective human longing would appear to be best summed up by the gist of this Monty Python scene:

King: (Michael Palin, gesturing out the window) “One day, lad, all this will be yours!”

Princeling: (Terry Jones) “What, father, the curtains?”

King: “No, not the curtains, lad. All that you can see!! … ”

Princeling: “But father, but… I don’t want any of that. I just want to… siiiiing!”

“Teen Spirit” is about a talent discovery show, like “The Voice” but called “Teen Spirit,” taking place on the Isle of Wight. Which allows Violet (Elle Fanning—formerly known as Dakota Fanning’s kid sister, but for quite some time now a star in her own right) to siiiiing.

Violet/Elle does it well. And first-time director Max Minghella directs well, and so it’s a good little movie to get your singing fix on, if you missed your scheduled viewing of this week’s “The Voice.”

Hero’s Journey

The concept of the Hero’s Journey, as introduced to American academia by Joseph Campbell, is now fairly well-established on the world’s radar. Most people are familiar with what the phrase “follow your bliss” means.

Violet Valenski (Fanning) is in desperate need of some bliss. She’s a withdrawn, 17-year-old girl, who milks goats and bales hay with her Polish immigrant mom (Agnieszka Grochowska) at a farmhouse on the Isle of Wight.

Violet’s clearly depressed out of her skull; such brooding teen despair you have not seen on the big screen for quite some time. Her so-called life is one supreme embodiment of “Ugh.” It’s the classic, too-pretty-and-talented-to-be-stuck-in-a-small-town ennui.

blond teen singer
Elle Fanning stars in Max Minghella’s “Teen Spirit.” (LD Entertainment & Bleecker Street)

She’s on the resident high school mean girl’s radar, and since dad’s not around, she’s gotta work with mom at a family restaurant.

Unbeknownst to mom, Violet sometimes ditches the farm and takes the stage at the local dive bar, for a sparse audience of heavy drinkers. One such older drinker, looking like Albert Einstein on a bender, named Vladimir Brajkovic (Croatian actor Zlatko Buric), applauds Violet and appears to take an unhealthy interest.

Violet avoids Vlad, only to hear a crew of rowdy teen boys coming up the street at the deserted bus stop; Vlad to the rescue.

Out of the frying pan into the fire? No, Vlad’s actually an upstanding, gentlemanly individual, and a former opera singer. Can you say instant manager and voice coach?

Why? Because “Teen Spirit” is coming to the Isle of Wight. Auditions! Stardom! Vlad says he’s gonna take 50 percent, and Violet’s mom (who is very unhappy at this turn of events) says 15 percent, and no funny business, or Vlad will have hell to pay.

Violet and Vlad eventually have a falling out, Violet gets a new band, Violet drinks too much on the night before her performance (because of the cute guy who was last year’s winner), but her star rises!

Elle Can Sing

It would seem there’s an uptick of young actresses who can sing at a pop-star level of competence these days. And play instruments. Here’s a related tangent: I follow bass guitarists on Instagram (because I’m a drummer and wannabe bassist), and there’s a plethora of young ladies on Instagram who are world-class bass players—like at a ridiculous, pyrotechnical level of prodigy-ness.

Don’t believe me? Check out Kinga Glyk (Poland), Eva Muck (Hungary), Saya Gray (Brazil), Mohini Dey (India), Julia Hofer (Austria), and Tal Wilkenfeld (Australia/USA)—an insane level of musicianship. This is the Hero’s Journey in action: All these young bassists have already found their bliss.

Likewise, Elle Fanning isn’t just lip-syncing. Like her contemporary Hailee Steinfeld, she can sing. Fanning might not be at Steinfeld’s level and start a parallel career as a pop star, but as an actress nailing the part of up-and-coming pop star—nail it, she most certainly does.

girl in red walks down hall
Elle Fanning stars in Max Minghella’s “Teen Spirit.” (LD Entertainment/Bleecker Street)

It helps that “La La Land” producer Fred Berger was onboard for this little movie, because while “Teen Spirit” is kind of a one-trick pony and the story’s a little thin, it’s got a captivating music video quality and functions as a short, sweet Cinderella-goes-to-the-ball mini-tale.

Teen spirit actors
(L–R) Producer Fred Berger, actors Elle Fanning, Olive Gray, Ursula Holliday, Zlatko Buric, and Clara Rugaard, and director Max Minghella, at a media event for Minghella’s “Teen Spirit.” (Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)

Film Review: ‘Teen Spirit’
Director: Max Minghella
Starring: Elle Fanning, Rebecca Hall, Zlatko Buric, Agnieszka Grochowska, Clara Rugaard
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Release Date: April 5
Rated 3 stars out of 5

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