Teen Spirit ***

The story is predictable, but it’s also surprisingly peppy and well made by first-time director Max Minghella. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

We’ve seen the story of the ingenue from nowhere making it big in show business plenty of times, so a shoulder shrug at the next incarnation of this would be understandable. It would also be presumptuous. “Teen Spirit” excels at every predictable turn, gamely engaging us to root for the protagonist to triumph even though we already know she will.

Her name is Violet (Elle Fanning). She’s shy, and lives with her religious mother (Agnieszka Grochowska) on a farm in the Isle of Wight in the U.K. They’re poor – they sell eggs at a flea market, and Violet also works at a bar, where she moonlights as a singer. She loves to sing, in fact, and is pretty good at it according to Vlad (Zlatko Buric), a husky local who is not as he initially seems.

An opportunity arises: A singing competition called “Teen Spirit” (think “American Idol”) is coming to town for auditions. You know the drill: She goes, thinks she does terrible, actually does fine, and to her surprise and no one else’s, advances in the competition. Vlad’s singing experience helps as he manages her aspiring career, and soon she has the entire community in Wight supporting her.

Just because you know where it’s going doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride. Writer/director Max Minghella includes a number of artistic flourishes to keep things peppy. For example, a montage of Violet’s initial audition is nicely packaged together, and later the judges are completely in the dark when they speak to Violet on stage. To her, this makes them more ominous and scary, and because we see the film through Violet’s perspective, we feel her fear as well.

There’s also an impressive, and extensive, tracking shot as Violet walks through the hallways to the stage, and note the movement toward and away from Violet as a purple strobe light shines behind her during a song. Minghella has taken the standard moments of this type of film and artistically elevated them in unique ways, so credit to him for bringing something new to the story. He also includes a pop-filled soundtrack, including the timely use of No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” in the beginning as Violet feels trapped in her life of work, school, home, work. The lyrics “I’m just a girl, living in captivity” resonate perfectly.

As for Fanning, she handles herself well in her first musical. She speaks Polish, has a natural singing voice, and depicts Violet’s transition from unknown to the bright lights of opportunity with just the right amount of nerves and ambition. In the end, when her otherwise dour character smiles, she lights up the screen with an exuberance we can’t help but also feel.

“Teen Spirit” is Minghella’s directorial debut. It’s far from groundbreaking, but it does impress and succeed in all the ways it needs to in order to be successful. Hopefully he’ll grow from this and do something more daring and original next time. He’s earned the right to try.

Did you know?
The film will remind some of “Flashdance” (1983); at one point, a few chords from that film’s iconic song “Flashdance…What A Feeling” can be heard.

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