For his feature film directorial debut, actor Max Minghella, son of the late Oscar-winning filmmaker Anthony Minghella (“The English Patient”), tells a familiar tale with a twist. “Teen Spirit” (Bleecker Street), combines the melodramatics of “A Star Is Born” (still fresh in our memories from Bradley Cooper’s 2019 remake) with the TV talent show competition concept.
Seventeen-year-old Violet (Elle Fanning in a breakthrough performance) lives on the Isle of Wight with her religious, Polish immigrant single mother Marla (Agnieszka Grochowska). Violet’s days of drudgery include farm work, selling eggs at the farmer’s market, waitressing at a billiard hall and going to school. Even going to a party, where classmate Luke (Archie Madekwe) attempts to make small-talk, is an unpleasant experience for her.
Violet’s one source of joy is singing. She sings in the church choir. She also sings in a pub, unbeknownst to Marla. At the pub, she meets Vlad (Zlatko Buric), a former opera star from Croatia who has fallen on hard times. Violet is initially suspicious of Vlad’s kindness and interest in her, but, as she soon discovers, she is going to be relying on him for more than she expected.
UK TV talent competition show “Teen Spirit” is having auditions in her small town and, like some of her classmates, Violet signs up for auditions. The audition process not only includes singing, but also a rigorous dance routine. It’s made clear at the beginning of auditions that only five people will be moving forward to compete in London.
Violet makes the cut. But, because of her age, she needs to bring a parent or guardian with her the next day to sign paperwork. Knowing full well that her mother would never approve, Violet reaches out to Vlad. He not only agrees to accompany her, but also to be her manager, as well as give her voice lessons.
The next day Violet auditions for the judges, including Jules (Rebecca Hall), one of the show’s producers. She performs an incredible rendition of the Robyn song “Dancing On My Own”. Jules is critical of Violet, remarking on how unpolished she is, but she allows Violet to advance to the next round of competition in London.
Now Violet, and Vlad, must convince Marla to let her compete. The meeting of the three of them is one of the funniest and most touching scenes in the movie. Additionally, Violet, who has begun to hang out with Luke and his bandmates, recruits the young musicians to be her backing band for the show.
For small-town girl Violet, the scene in London is seductive and overwhelming. Keyan (Ruairi O’Connor), a Teen Spirit champion, hits on Violet, which only causes her more confusion. In addition to that, Jules offers Violet a recording contract, regardless of whether or not she wins the competition, potentially shutting out Vlad. However, Jules must sign it before she goes on TV to compete.
As is to be expected, the drama is turned up to 11. Violet and Vlad have a major disagreement. Violet drinks too much the night before the competition. Vlad assaults Keyan in a club and then disappears on a bender.
Don’t let all that crush your (teen) spirit, as a fairy tale ending is lurking in the wings. Whatever you do, don’t leave before the credits roll as there are lots of wonderful surprises in store.