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REVIEW: “Teen Spirit” at TIFF 2018


REVIEW: “Teen Spirit” at TIFF 2018

Max Minghella’s directorial debut gets what we sing into the hairbrush for.

Teen Spirit takes pop music seriously.

Where so many other films of its kind portray pop as ‘sell-out’ music made by the talentless for the mainstream, Max Minghella’s directorial debut pays the genre the respect it deserves.

Rather than patronize its listeners (specifically the young girls who are too often characterized as mindless, tasteless consumers,) Teen Spirit taps into the heart and soul of why we stan. Like Lorde puts “cities you’ll never see on screen” on the map and Kosovan Dua Lipa proves voices from the smallest part of the world can make it big, Elle Fanning tells a global-pop story in Violet.

She’s an introverted 17-year-old from the Isle of Wight who is miserable in her poor, farmgirl life. When an international singing competition scouts in her middle-of-nowhere town, the audition feels high stakes in worlds both on screen and off because it is: Winning would mean a release of burdens no child should have to carry.

Teen Spirit gets that head banging around her bedroom to No Doubt isn’t just something an angsty teen does to avoid homework or taking out the trash; it very well might be means of surviving full grown hardships. In Violet’s case, singing at an under-attended karaoke night and listening to an old, beat up iPod is her only escape from the reality of two gruelling waitressing jobs, an absentee father and a strained relationship with a mom who hasn’t been much of a parent since he left.

With the help of an unlikely mentor (Zlatko Buric,) she sets out to make that temporary escape her permanent reality. When the producers at the competition play dirty tricks to pit her against another contestant (Clara Rugaard), we’re reminded that today’s listeners see through the manufactured heartthrobs and “it” girls of the past. The key to modern pop is relatability, and we can’t relate to somebody who isn’t being authentic, raw and vulnerable. To win, Violet needs to tap into her pain and reject the reality competition show typecast that’s been designed for her.

Shot by Autumn Durald like an elaborate (and stunning) VMA-worthy music video, Teen Spirit gets what we sing into the hairbrush for. (I can already imagine the Tumblr GIF sets its aesthetic will inspire once the film is released on DVD.) Minghella’s taste for pop is apparent, but the movie’s spirit transcends the music: to treat teens like they have nothing to be moved by is to keep a star from rising.

Find out how Taylor Swift and Katy Perry helped Elle Fanning prepare for her pop star role below!

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