Review: Teen Spirit

Score: B

Director: Max Minghella

Cast: Elle Fanning, Agniezska Grochowska, Archie Madekwe, Zlatko Buric

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Stop me if you've heard this one: a young person from a small town has some serious musical talent, but their parents don't seem to care. They're discovered by someone with connections to the business and get famous, seemingly overnight. The fame goes to their head, but eventually they learn what's truly important. It's a tale as old as time, from That Thing You Do! to Bohemian Rhapsody. Teen Spirit does absolutely nothing to reinvent the wheel, but it tells this cliché story with style and specificity.

Elle Fanning is magnetic as usual as Violet, an outcast living with her single, devout mother (Agniezska Grochowska) on the Isle of Wight. Working two jobs and singing at karaoke bars when she can, she dreams of leaving, but knows she'll probably be stuck forever. But a chance encounter with an ex-opera singer (Zlatko Buric) and an opportunity to audition for an American Idol-esque singing competition might be her ticket out.

But luckily Max Minghella, in his directorial debut, has plenty of style to spare, and an incredible music supervisor. Favoring songs by female solo artists, the tunes seem to capture Violet's feelings at any given moment. Her performances get better as the film goes along, and the humor does too. Until her audition, it's a pretty bleak movie.

In the film's third act, Rebecca Hall appears as an evil record executive. Her scenes recall the Black Mirror episode "Fifteen Million Merits," with the record contract she offers nothing but a Faustian bargain. Again, all stuff we've seen before. But the performances are all terrific – especially Buric as Violet's mentor – and the direction, influenced by music videos, is top-notch. The musical numbers are electric and there's no denying the film is a crowd-pleaser. Just don't expect Teen Spirit to be as revolutionary as "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

*This originally appeared as part of our 2019 Atlanta Film Festival coverage.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.