April 3, 2019

SCREEN | Dancing on Her Own – Elle Fanning Feels Like 'Teen Spirit'

"I never dreamed I would make it this far."
Elle Fanning Max Minghella | Teen Spirit

Actor turned first-time writer/director Max Minghella, son of the late, celebrated filmmaker Anthony Minghella, has crafted his own contemporary version of the familiar tale of a young, aspiring singer from a small town dreaming of making it big. Teen Spirit feels very much like an indie movie version of A Star is Born with shades of Vox Lux's dark overtones.

Elle Fanning stars as a disaffected, working-class seventeen-year-old Polish-born British teen, Violet Valenski, from the Isle of Wight. She lives a tired, unassuming life in her small English enclave with her struggling immigrant single mother (Agnieszka Grochowska). Not unlike in The Neon Demon, Fanning proves to be a suitable fresh-faced young ingénue and vessel for fame. However, it's aging Croatian-Danish actor Zlatko Buric as a local disheveled drunk who becomes Violet's unlikely manager thanks to his opera star past who's the heart of the film.

When an American Idol type reality show comes to her hometown to hold auditions for their live televised talent competition, Violet finds her chance at pop stardom beyond the handful of drunks she usually sings for at her local watering hole in between her studies, shifts at the diner, and farm chores at home. Minghella manages to freshen the tired troupes with a specific setting and relatable characters mostly played by unknowns.

The film's true magic comes in the stylish direction, fluid camera movements, expertly edited extended musical montages, and use of contemporary pop music from the likes of Robyn, Ellie Goulding, Grimes, and Ariana Grande. Teen Spirit embraces its neon, candy-coated, sweetly executed sheen with some dazzlingly yet understated set pieces anchored by Fanning's revelatory lead performance.

Elle Fanning Max Minghella | Teen Spirit

Full of genuine emotion and tightly-paced at ninety-two minutes, Teen Spirit captures the purity of youthful dreams and that unmistakable universal feeling of being stuck in your place. Music video cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw perfectly ramps up the increasingly stunning visuals deliberately until the audience is fully encased into the backstage world of televised singing competitions and temptation.

How the singing scenes are filmed and edited really pop combining different music video and modern cultural influences. Fanning's stunning cover of Robyn's "Dancing on my Own" sets off her whirlwind journey into show business that's breathlessly pieced together. Everything about Violet's rise to stardom and Fanning's naturally subdued yet dynamic singing voice makes you believe in her rising talent.

The younger Minghella proves his stylish filmmaking prowess in spades. His direction evokes such a confident, assured hand. It clearly shows an understanding of the power and appeal of pop music. Teen Spirit has a slightly unreal, dreamy quality that also sort of grounds the cookie-cutter story of artistic aspiration. It feels like a perfect directorial debut effort efficiently showcasing his talent for balancing story and visuals while getting another truly star-making turn from a young actress.

Teen Spirit opens in Vancouver on April 19th.


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