Teen Spirit – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Set in Whiting Isle, UK, this coming-of-age Cinderella story stars Elle Fanning as Violet, an introverted 17-year-old girl who feels trapped by her circumstances. Her single mother runs a small farm, and needs her daughter to work part-time at a diner to help support them. Between school, work, singing with the choir, and dealing with her unhappy Polish mother, Violet leads a lonely, unsatisfying life.

Teen Spirit.
Elle Fanning stars in Teen Spirit. Photo copyright 2018 Bleecker Street.

In a desperate act of rebellion, she sneaks off to sing at a local bar at night (pretending to be 21 years old), and meets Vlad (Zlatko Buric), an elderly alcoholic who was once a famous opera star. After her performance, for which only Vlad claps, Violet is faced with a group of drunken men harassing her at the bus stop or accepting Vlad’s offer for a ride home. She accepts Vlad’s offer, and they form a friendship of sorts.

New Singing Sensation

When an American Idol style competition called Teen Spirit comes to town recruiting for a new UK singing sensation, naturally Violet wants to audition, but knows her mother won’t approve. Having conveniently met Vlad a couple of weeks prior to the audition, she asks him to serve as her guardian.

Not content to prevaricate without profit, Vlad says if she wins and makes it big, he will serve as her manager and take 50 percent of her earnings. As Violet inches closer and closer to winning the local competition and moving on to the regional bout in London,  they inform her mother, who reluctantly agrees to the arrangement, but tells Vlad he gets only 15 percent.

Teens Should Love It

Although Fanning sings her own songs and does a good job of it, much of this film feels overly familiar. Some scenes and characters, including a jealous nemesis at school, an impoverished home life, a fairy godmother (in this case a drunken opera singer), and schemers ready to take advantage of her at the competitions, are predictable and trite. Likewise, her emotional outbursts at Vlad and his eventual return may send jaded adults out to the concession stand for refills. Even some of the music is recycled hits from earlier times.

Teens, however, probably won’t notice or mind the lack of fresh material. They have a hero to admire. Violet’s humble beginnings, lack of poise, and complete absence of social skills make her relatable, as does her pretty girl next door appearance that while pleasing, fails to dazzle. Buric also does a fine job in his portrayal of a man who has lost most of his reasons for living until he sees the potential in a young stranger at a bar. Backstory is barely covered, or even relevant, because this film is strictly in-the-moment.

Teen Spirit

A small-town farm girl dreams of becoming a pop star in this Cinderella story.

  • Stars: Elle Fanning, Agnieszka Grochowska, Archie Madekwe, Zlatko Buric
  • Director and Writer: Max Minghella
  • Genre: Musical Drama
  • Run Time: 92 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive content, and for teen drinking and smoking)

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.