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"TEEN SPIRIT"
(2019) (Elle Fanning, Zlatko Buric) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A poor teen enters a televised singing competition show in hopes of winning it all, with an unlikely ally helping her along the way.
PLOT:
Violet Valenski (ELLE FANNING) is a 17-year-old teen who lives with her single mom, Marla (AGNIESZKA GROCHOWSKA), on a farm on the Isle of Wight. They don't have much money, so beyond selling produce from their farm, they both also work at a local pub, while Violet secretly makes spare change entertaining sparse crowds performing karaoke. With her love of singing, she's enticed by local tryouts for the televised singing contest show known as Teen Spirit.

But not wanting her mom to know and being underage, she convinces former opera singer Vlad (ZLATKO BURIC) -- who previously saw her perform at the karaoke bar -- to pretend that he's her guardian and sign the entry form for her. His one condition is that if she makes it big, he'll become her manager. She agrees and enters the competition with support from her classmate, Luke (ARCHIE MADEKWE), who has a band of his own that eventually plays her accompanying music.

Winning the local audition, it's off to London for Violet who not only meets the show's previous winner, Keyan (RUAIRI O'CONNOR), but also the executive producer, Jules (REBECCA HALL), who wants her to follow suit and sign on with her before the final competition. But with that meaning she'd have to cut Vlad out of the loop, Violet must decide what to do as the pressure mounts with the show fast approaching.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
While I had lost interest in them years ago due to the novelty having worn off, sheer repetition of their formats, and all of them sort of jumping the proverbial shark, I've had a newfound returned interest in televised singing competition shows such as "The Voice" and "American Idol."

That said, I usually stop watching the former once the blind audition parts are over, but this year I've been completely hooked on the latter from the onset through the show's current state of just having selected their top 10 contestants.

And that's not just because of the incredible vocal talent on display but also the human interest, personal back-stories of some of the competitors that manage to make us care about them and further engage us during their hopeful path to stardom journey.

Accordingly, and in my current state of liking such shows, I thought I was going to have the same sort of fan reaction to "Teen Spirit." It's the "Idol-esque" drama about a teen (Elle Fanning) who loves to sing and despite -- or perhaps because of -- her current poor financial state and overall "nothing to write home about" lifestyle, decides to audition for the titular show.

And much to the initial dismay of her single mother (Agnieszka Grochowska), the girl finds an unlikely manager and mentor in the form of Vlad (Zlatko Buric), a washed-up, former opera singer who happens to hear her perform on karaoke night and is impressed by her voice.

From there it's off to the races as the storyline follows the formulaic rags-to-riches path commonly found in these sorts of "I want to be a singer" movies (including the various "A Star is Born" iterations). But that, a far too heavy reliance on montages - - I lost count of them after a while -- and an overall far too superficial look at the protagonist, the music biz, and more, ultimately means the final product isn't anywhere as good as it could and should have been.

Which is a surprise and a shame since there's potential aplenty in the story and characters -- even considering the familiarity and predictability of it all -- and the fact that reality shows like "Idol" are simply so engaging and entertaining without much in the way of a scripted story, that this should have been as well.

It's not horrible by any means, and Fanning is as good as always, but you can tell that this is the feature film directorial debut of actor Max Minghella (son of Anthony Minghella of "The English Patient" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" fame) who works from his own script. With a little more experience under his belt being behind the camera I imagine his subsequent offerings will likely feel more polished and feature more depth.

Here, not only does everything feel rushed and superficial, but most of the singing parts are over-edited and feature too much camera movement -- especially when compared to the real-life shows where it's the singing and not the visuals that are designed to razzle-dazzle. And unlike so many times this year where the singing moments are simply extraordinary on their own (and occasionally elicit goosebumps), the same doesn't happen in this offering enough (despite Fanning reportedly doing all of her own singing and having an exquisite-sounding voice).

So, in the end, "Teen Spirit" comes off like a green entrant who has a decent audition and gets encouragement from the judges to keep growing, but it doesn't stand out enough to be advanced through to the next round. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed April 17, 2019 / Posted April 19, 2019


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