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TV/Film ‘Teen Spirit’ is exactly as expected, and still really good.

Apr. 26, 2019
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Teen Spirit is the first movie from director Max Minghella, starring Elle Fanning, Rebecca Hall, and Zlatko Buric. Its soundtrack is impressive, featuring songs from the likes of Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, and Grimes, and well-known tracks performed by Fanning herself. The plot follows a young Polish girl named Violet Valenski (Elle Fanning) who feels trapped in her small hometown. She also, of course, happens to have an amazing singing voice, and performs in local dive bars to small audiences who don’t care at all. But then she meets Vald (Zlatko Buric), a retired opera singer, who recognizes her talent and offers to help her. So when a big singing competition called Teen Spirit comes to town looking for contestants, Violet bypasses her mother’s wishes and joins the competition with the help of her new friend. She auditions with Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” in front of a panel of poorly lit and vaguely threatening judges, and it admittedly goes exactly like you’d expect it to. Her beautiful ballad is met with dry crisitism, and yet she makes it through the next few rounds until the contest really kicks off in London. 

Here, tensions go up a notch: competitors create rivalries, we meet a previous Teen Spirit winner and love interest, and eventually Jules (Rebecca Hall) enters the picture. Jules is a charming, red-lipstick-wearing big-time music producer who wants to offer Violet a contract—under some risky and somewhat immoral conditions. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this is probably the film’s most dramatic conflict (though even so it won’t make you too nervous). 

Actually, that’s my biggest issue with the movie; while the soundtrack, acting, and stunning visuals pull viewers in, we never sink any deeper. All of the drama remains surface-level, and we never get the opportunity to fully understand the characters or their backstories. Everything feels just slightly underdeveloped—the tension between Violet and her mom, Vlad’s mysterious daughter, and Violet’s desperate need to leave her hometown. 

As you can probably tell, Teen Spirit follows a very traditional formula. There are no unexpected twists or turns. You know the plot; you’ve seen it without really seeing it. You can anticipate what’s next, and the ending is nothing particularly special. But that being said, I still think it’s worth watching. 

Teen Spirit might not be the most thrilling, masterful film I’ve ever seen, but it’s fun to watch. The plot is predictable, but the reason this kind of storyline has been used so many times is because it’s good. I could tell what was going to happen, but that didn’t make me want to watch it any less. And the characters, while perhaps underdeveloped and lacking clear motivations for their actions, are still interesting and amusing. This is especially the case with Vlad, Violet’s unintentionally funny mentor. Even though he falls into some very obvious tropes, I didn’t think that made him any less charming or compelling. Also the acting (and singing!), specifically by Fanning, is incredibly well done. Though Fanning was dealt a script with an underdeveloped protagonist, she still managed to bring intrigue and believability to Violet. Her character may not have depth, but I still wanted to see her succeed. 

And the soundtrack. Oh, the soundtrack. Teen Spirit features Grimes, Charli XCX, Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, Mitski, and more. I loved almost every single song they played; a special shoutout goes to my favorite girl anthem, No Doubt’s “Just a Girl.” Granted, a female-dominated soundtrack for a female-dominated film is probably one of my cinematic soft spots, but still—you have to listen to it. Even if you aren’t going to see the movie, I’d recommend listening. 

So, I urge you: see Teen Spirit! Or more specifically: see Teen Spirit if you want a break from pretentious, slow-paced movies about tragedy. While there’s nothing wrong with that type of film, I’m bored of the disdain movie critics have for any films that aren’t like that and may seem more frivolous in nature—like the story of a young girl trying to become a pop star. Teen Spirit is admittedly not deep, but I don’t think that makes it a bad movie at all. It’s lively, fast-paced, and I was hooked until the very end. And you will be too.