I think that a film about a rising teen pop star already finds itself with a very fitting start after it plays a Grimes song during the opening credits. Something that would be rather easy for me to say, because I am a huge fan of Grimes’s music, but how exactly it fits into the context of Max Minghella’s own directorial debut – that’s another story being told. It’s a film that encapsulates what builds up “teen spirit” in that very sense, of course with being set in the world of music as a perfect support system. Yet there’s something about Teen Spirit that still carries an endearing enough quality, even beyond how much fun writer-director Max Minghella is having with the music scene. But sometimes I wonder if being fond of the music in itself would be critical to one’s own enjoyment of the film, because I already know that sitting there watching Teen Spirit and even wanting to hum to the tunes to I recognized well enough while I was in the theater made me feel like I was really in that moment.
Starring Elle Fanning as a Polish-British hopeful teen idol named Violet, this film tells the story of how her dreams of moving away from the broken family lifestyle which she lives within have also catapulted her into the spotlight after having taken part in an international singing competition called “Teen Spirit.” Perhaps this isn’t a story that’s far too different from many other stories about rising stars, but there’s still a whole lot to be admired about how Max Minghella captures every moment of this onscreen. It’s a film that feels as if it’s truly living every moment of how overwhelming it feels to be launched into the spotlight, especially if odds are stacked up to be against you on every turn, but it’s also a film that celebrates every bit of that dedication by reminding its own audiences that their efforts are still certain to come back and lead them towards a good path.
There’s a lot to note about Max Minghella’s clear love of the music scene, even from the title alone which many can recognize out of Nirvana’s own hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” But for any rising star in the music industry, there’s a whole lot that Minghella’s film touches upon that should already strike many chords for many, going from the cover songs to the aesthetic – resembling a music video, Minghella clearly loves what the scene is doing for rising talents and there’s never a moment where you feel any of that is set to fade away. It’s this energy that keeps Teen Spirit as enjoyable a watch as it is, for even the song covers that come by still evoke that same energy you know Minghella would want to drive from the scene, they never feel hackneyed at that. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’d have expected Elle Fanning to be as good a singer as she was up until her first scene as a small restaurant’s provided entertainment.
With all of this having been said, I do wish that Max Minghella took his own vision to a much greater length because I feel that there’s a whole lot more that he could show about this environment of newfound fame that only at most feels limited to being mere background detail. Such is the case with Rebecca Hall’s character, who only at most has one important scene before disappearing off. Sometimes I’ve even found myself wanting to know a whole lot more about the other Teen Spirit contenders, how it feels for them to be put into the spotlight even for a brief moment of their lives, even for all the focus being geared towards Elle Fanning’s own rise to the stardom taking every moment of the running time. Minghella knows how to elevate what it feels to live in that moment, yet I’m a bit unsure that he knows how to truly make the environment feel every bit that big too.
All of this having been said, I had fun watching Teen Spirit. But I’m still a bit reserved about how everything turns out, while I don’t think I can deny how much fun it feels just to be able to listen to Elle Fanning sing – because that was probably the one thing that surprised me most about this film. But Max Minghella definitely has my interest in terms of where he’s going as a director, because the music video aesthetic that builds up the most energetic moments of Teen Spirit already would be enough to leave a lasting impression for it takes you within that moment of what it feels like to be overwhelmed by that feeling of fame. Easy enough for me to say, this is pleasant stuff all around, if still a tad predictable. Though I must admit I am still not sold in on that Polish accent Fanning carries here, it even feels quite distracting.
Watch the trailer right here.
Images via Lionsgate and TIFF.
Directed by Max Minghella
Screenplay by Max Minghella
Produced by Fred Berger, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
Starring Elle Fanning, Rebecca Hall, Zlatko Buric
Release Date: September 7, 2018 (TIFF)
Running Time: 92 minutes