TIFF Review: 'Teen Spirit' Smells Like a Marketing Campaign Directed by Max Minghella

Starring Elle Fanning, Zlatko Buric and Rebecca Hall
TIFF Review: 'Teen Spirit' Smells Like a Marketing Campaign Directed by Max Minghella
On the Isle of Wight, the timid young Violet loves to escape her dull surroundings through song. When she's faced with the prospect of a reality TV singing contest, she must find confidence and discipline to sharpen her skills. Fortunately, an old man in a bar uses his secret past to guide her through the ropes. This is Teen Spirit — an earnest musical from veteran teen movie actor and first-time director Max Minghella.
Throughout its 92-minute runtime, one can imagine an incredibly compelling teen movie as Violet develops a relationship with her de facto mentor and eventually overcomes hurdle after hurdle as she traces greatness. Unfortunately, Teen Spirit doesn't offer much on its own.
Violet is played by Elle Fanning, whose muted and subtle vibe never comes out of its shell. That makes the entire premise hard to believe — when she performs songs by Robyn and Ellie Goulding, the movie wants us to believe that she's moving the Earth, despite showing a deadened, somewhat faithful rendition. Were she a chic Chromatics wannabe, the whole thing would make a lot more sense. As it stands, she comes across as a decent karaoke performer who'd likely be cut in the first round if this singing contest existed in real life.
Further, the singing contest itself is entirely unrealistic, thanks to the film's look. There's no denying that Autumn Durald (Palo Alto, The Reflektor Tapes) is a talented cinematographer, but her backlit shots lend the reality show a slick quality that never transports us outside of the darkened soundstage where it was likely shot. As a result, what could have been a charming tale about a small town girl achieving wide success instead feels like a sleek highlight reel from a creative agency.
As the movie predictably plays out, one can't help but think back to the Interscope Records logo that flashed before the film began. Was this whole project just one big play for music marketing?
(Interscope Films)