I couldn't help but fall in love with Violet, Elle Fanning's deeply affecting creation at the center of Max Minghella's directorial debut Teen Spirit. A ferociously shy teenager living a rather mundane existence on the Isle of Wight alongside her Polish immigrant mother (Agnieszka Grochowska), Violet is a 17-year-old who simultaneously seems to melt into her surroundings unnoticed while compellingly drawing you into her aching vulnerability meets impossible hopefulness.
Teen Spirit is unapologetically clichéd, a rise-to-fame story that hits all the familiar notes while composing a refreshingly sweet and utterly original tune. Most directors would be content to go from point A to point B in such a tale, but not Minghella, the occasionally acting son of the late filmmaking great Anthony Minghella. With Teen Spirit, Minghella goes from point A to point C then back to point B then traversing his way all over to point D, E, F, and G before ending up somewhere along the journey between point B and C again.
If it sounds complicated, it's not. If it sounds involving and engaging, it most certainly is.
Elle Fanning, who has thus far forged quite the indie career by being unafraid to pretty much tackle anything, is nonetheless an absolute revelation as Violet, desperately leaning into the harsh realities of her existence yet seemingly existing on an entirely other plane of existence whenever the music starts to play and her voice of angelic desperation comes to life.
It is while singing practically alone in a dingy, haze-filled bar that Violet encounters an almost eerily interested drunk (Zlatko Buric), whom it will soon be revealed, per those aforementioned clichés, is far more than the local drunk than anyone believes him to be. He is still an unlikely mentor but, of course, those are the only types of mentors we ever find in this kind of film. Still, there's something unnerving about his presence and that vulnerability meets edginess masterfully informs Buric's quietly brilliant performance.
Much of Teen Spirit is immersed in an almost dream-like aura and lensed to stunning perfection by Autumn Durald, whose lensing work here immediately had me checking IMDB for her other credits. She gives Teen Spirit a sort of life-tinged haze that practically wrapped itself around me and made me feel as if I'd become one with the motion picture.
Quite literally, it's stunning cinematography.
There is, of course, a competition that will unfold, a nationally televised opportunity for Violet to passionately chase her dream and, indeed, passionately chase her dream she will followed by her mentor and embraced by the tiny island that has so long represented only a sliver of her hopes and dreams. Rebecca Hall, as the sort of record exec one intentionally avoids on the way up, is per her usual impossibly perfect while one can't forget to mention Agnieszka Grochowska's tender, enthusiastic performance as Violet's mother and tremendous supporting turns by Archie Madekwe and Millie Brady among others in what is a terrific ensemble effort.
Original music by Marius De Vries adds emotional depth and spark to the film, while it's Fanning's own vocal tour-de-force of vulnerability and personal power that ultimately serves as the driving force behind Teen Spirit.
Currently on a limited arthouse run with indie distributor Bleecker Street, Teen Spirit arrives in Indy on April 19th and will be screening at Landmark's Showplace 12 (Glendale), AMC Perry Crossing, and Hamilton 16. It's a film to catch on the big screen where Durald's lensing and Fanning's vocals will envelope you in Minghella's familiar yet fantastic story.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic