Teen Spirit

Directed by Max Minghella

Starring Elle Fanning and Zlatco Buric

Max Minghella’s directorial debut is a delight. It’s a safe bet as far as stories go, but it’s fresh enough to entertain.

Violet is a small town girl with big dreams who finds a mentor who can help her get there. I know, I know, this sounds really familiar. My Fair Lady, A Star is Born… How many times has this rags to riches story been written? For a first screenplay, it’s a safe bet and the story veers from the traditional, layering in just enough to disguise it as it’s own.

Violet is a teenaged Polish immigrant living on a rural farm in the Isle of Wight with her single mother. They struggle for money. Violet isn’t like the other local girls at school, she’s a bit of a loner. She loves singing and sneaks out between work and home to sing at a local pub on open mike night for the experience and extra cash. Vlad, a former Russian opera singer thrice her age and with endless time on his hands, hangs out at the pub taking in the local talent. He lives in a beat up old van. He offers Violet a ride one night which she initially declines, but when a crowd of hoodlums startle her she takes him up on it. He might be creepy but he seems harmless enough.

Around town are huge billboards advertising the Teen Spirit talent contest. Girls at school are planning to attend and she’d like to go. She goes to the first audition but to go any further she needs a guardian’s signature. Off goes the lightbulb, maybe Vlad will pose as her guardian.

Zlatco Buric is the perfect actor for the Vlad role. Minghella said in the Q&A that the role was written for him a big, burly man with wild hair. He’s either a teddy bear or a demon. Well he’s actually a teddy bear with demons…

Vlad quickly takes on the role of Violet’s manager and mentor, and their unlikely friendship blossoms. Vlad has a storage locker where he keeps all of the old records including his own recordings. Here he helps her develop her talent showing her some tricks of the trade. He has to win over her mother, which is not too difficult.

The typical hiccups and crisis ensue, I’ll not spoil your experience, because these events are what make it its own.

Elle Fanning sings throughout the film, and while they may have enhanced her voice, she was convincingly great. My daughter was annoyed by the choice of music, that it was too mainstream for the type of film it was trying to be. She maybe right. Time will tell. She also noticed that one of the songs played during the closing credits was the same as played during the closing credits of Mean Girls, Orbital’s Halcyon + On + On. She has pretty sharp musical memory to notice this. Max did say he got all the music he wanted for the film but to use the same credit music as Mean Girls? Maybe he’s paying homage to a favourite.

Do I think Max Minghella has directing skills? Hell yes. What he did here was miles ahead of what another actor did with the similar tale…. I cannot wait to see what he does next. But first he must do some acting and save June from Fred.

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