Max Minghella’s directorial debut Teen Spirit off the bat is full of exactly what the title suggests. Set in the Isle of Wight, Violet Valenski (Elle Fanning) is a reclusive teenager, spending her days tending to her mother’s stables and singing to a party of one in the nosebleeds at her local working men’s club. Her ears are almost always plugged up by her earphones, soaking in the exuberance of the dream pop soundtrack Minghella adopts to explore. Opportunity comes knocking and Violet knows it won’t stay around for long.
Making a debut feature is one task. Making your debut a musical based project is another thing entirely. Throughout Teen Spirit is it abundantly clear that Minghella understands the raw power that an uplifting experience through music can provide: an audio wave laced vista of escapism and contemplation. Treating some sequences in a pseudo music video fashion, Fanning drifts her way through sequences of what would normally be standard performance affair and instead are colourful insights to Violet’s persona.
Not only are these sequences delightful to bare witness too, D.P Autumn Durald’s work throughout is nothing short of tantalizing throughout. Fanning is also supported by Agnieszka Grochowska, Rebecca Hall and Zlatko Buric, with the latter providing a standout performance as Violet’s jaded mentor Vlad. Reluctantly sharing a history in opera singing, Vlad agrees to coach Violet in a bid to see renewed success through her. Buric and Fanning’s are unquestionably great together as the true reality of success begins to appear in Violet’s future.
As the leeches of showbiz start to attach themselves to Violet, it’s at this point that Teen Spirit has issues in depth. In the recent flurry of music-based features, this type of reality shock story threading isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Instead of diving deeper into how Violet has almost traded in her persona and reluctance in for a shot at success, Minghella decides to focus instead of the booze-soaked and lustful antics of fame. The initial first half of Teen Spirit roots itself in UK school life (in a refreshingly accurate way too), it seems a shame not to tap more into that adolescent mindset.
As the last note starts bellows away after the abrupt ending, Teen Spirit still left me thinking about those experiences I’ve encountered with the power of music. Max Minghella has come out the gates with a strong reminder of the power to be inspired, create and ultimately… to feel.
Directed by: Max Minghella
Cast: Elle Fanning, Agnieszka Grochowska, Archie Madekwe, Zlatko Buric, Millie Brady
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