Teen Spirit smells like a minor hit in a minor key

Teen Spirit smells like a minor hit in a minor key
Nothing wrong with Teen Spirit, although with everyone still humming the Sha-la-la-la-la-low song from A Star Is Born, it does feel like this is a story we’ve seen more than a few times.

On the other hand, it provides a chance for Americans to fight back against the Aussies and Brits on accent appropriation. Elle Fanning stars as Violet Valenski, the daughter of Polish immigrants growing up on Britain’s rural Isle of Wight. This gives her an east-of-nowhere accent, but at least she doesn’t sound like a Yank who’s trying too hard.

Violet loves singing – in a choir, or in a bar on a sparsely attended open-mic night, it’s all the same to her. On one such evening she gets enthusiastic applause from a middle-aged patron (Zlatko Buric) who then offers her a lift home.

He seems like a creep, and it doesn’t help that his name is Vlad and he looks like drunk Einstein. But he’s the real deal – a former Croatian opera singer with a sketched-in backstory who sees something in this young performer. If he can help her realize her dreams, maybe he can find his own redemption. He also demands 50 per cent of her earnings, though Violet’s mom talks him down to 15.

Teen Spirit is the directing debut of its writer, Max Minghella, and while it doesn’t take too many chances with its narrative, it’s still an appealing tale. Violet tries out for a TV talent show (also called Teen Spirit) and makes it to the finals in London, where Vlad tries to keep her safe from rapacious recording types. They include Ruairi O’Connor as a predator with a voice of gold, and Rebecca Hall as an executive who presents a Faustian bargain with such jollity that even the audience won’t be sure whether or not to trust her.

It’s a nice showcase for Fanning’s talents – she sings, and speaks Polish! – and proof of concept for Minghella as a director. In one of his more interesting choices, we see that when Violet performs, it turns into a music video in her head. It’s a powerful symbol of the transformative power of song, and enough to lift this tale on its musical shoulders.

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