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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Teen Spirit

A pop classic of perseverance and passion.

Imagine the sensation of getting out of the car and stretching your entire body after a five hour car ride. All that physical numbness evaporating into fuel that rengines your complete anatomy.

That is exactly how Polish teen, Violet Valenski (Elle Fanning) feels when she sings. She is able to go to another place that is entirely of her own inner peace. It’s almost therapeutic in a way. Having been abandoned by her father years earlier, she lives in the Isle of Wight with her single mother Marla (Agnieszka Grochowska). Money is very tight for the both of them and the waitressing jobs they have doesn't make things any easier.

Naturally, Violet needs an escape so singing is freeing for her but she’s realistic enough to comprehend the gravity of how challenging it is to make it professionally. She soon meets retired opera singer, Vlad (Zlatko Buric) whose blown away by her voice. He proposes with more practice and opportunity, she could go very far. Initaly, she turns him down as she doesn't believe for a second anything he says.

She soon sees a billboard for singing auditions for Teen Spirit: An annual live television competition with a history of winners who go on to have incredible careers. Despite Marla’s initial reluctance, Vlad becomes Violet’s manager and she eventually manages to nail the audition. The two soon travel to London for the actual competition. As the live broadcast gets nearer, the waters get darker and the stakes get higher.

Fanning’s rise to stardom has never surprised me as her performances in Somewhere, 20th Century Women, The Beguiled and The Neon Demon emerged from nowhere other than her heart. For an actress like her, the characters are bigger than the story: The characters ARE the story and her ability to understand them so eloquently is something so pure and eternal, I only imagine where she gets it from.

As for her singing I’ll say that as an actor, you can’t just wake up one morning and think, I want to try singing because I want to try something different. You have to be able to sing and you have to really want it. I can’t remember any film in which Fanning got to sing but after Teen Spirit, I’m positive she can continue if she wants to. While Violet can sing, she’s an inexperienced performer. She has to learn how to vocally perform just like Fanning did, which I think greatly contributes to the believability of Fanning’s performance.

I’ve never seen Buric in anything but for what it’s worth, I found his portrayal of persistence very moving. Violet’s initial rejection towards him doesn't faze him one bit. He knows she’ll come around because she’s that talented to ignore that spark inside her. Buric portrays this certainty with encouragement, wisdom and kindness. The chemistry between him and Fanning was born out of a mutual attachment to Teen Spirit and together, they gave it the life they saw when they read it.

My only complaint about Teen Spirit was that Rebecca Hall wasn't in it as much as I thought she would be. Her character Jules is a music producer who wants to offer Violet a contract before the competition. She wants to eliminate Vlad’s management and bring in her own people to make Violet a star. She tells her, “You’re a caterpillar. We’re a cocoon. Maybe together, We’ll make a butterfly.” Violet of course, is already a butterfly. She’s been one her whole life. She just hasn't dared to spread her wings. As soon as she does, she sees what she could accomplish. Jules is smart but not smart enough to appreciate what Vlad has done for Violet. Her threat towards him is not as big a storyline as I thought it would be. Had the filmmakers expanded on this, Hall would most likely have had more screen time, which I’d have deeply appreciated as I find her work very stylish in a very dark way. To her credit, she gave all she could when she was needed and that’s really all any actor can do.

Autumn Durald’s cinematography puts Teen Spirit on the list of music films that make audiences feel as though they’re at a concert. The red lighting he weaved into Teen Spirit fully captures the pressure Violet feels and how powerful her opportunity is. He also exposed Violet’s hometown in a fashion that made me feel I’ve been there as long as she has. He brought forward a very obvious sense of formality.

Overall, audiences feelings towards Teen Spirit will depend on their love of music. Teen Spirit is a pop classic of perseverance and passion. Violet’s journey is not to become a singer. It’s to claim her identity. Music shapes who we are and who we become in so many ways. Teen Spirit is a moving tale of someone in that relatable transition.

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