Max Minghella's first attempt at directing is a noble effort that misses a number of narrative marks. As we have seen a rise-to-fame story a thousand times before, Minghella decided to sacrifice the actual story for a mood. Teen Spirit performs like a concept playlist, of varying songs but unified styles. Even the very beginning of Flashdance (What a Feeling) is used; the keyboard synths that can sneak into the film's synth pop soundtrack without a trace.
The millennial-electronic soundtrack is matched up with extremely vibrant visuals, including an artistic lens that boosts Teen Spirit into an aura. You may not feel as though you are a rough rock being turned into a crystal superstar, but you are living every moment as if you are having the best Spotify randomization of the month.
The main draw is Elle Fanning, who usually picks projects that are worth an attempt. This is no different. Fanning is an arthouse obsessive, and she is willing to dabble in works that are even slightly aesthetic in such a way. Thus, we get a full commitment from her (do we ever see a bad take from her, though?). Her passive neutralistic way is infectious. Others may have been bland attempting this. Fanning is Pandora's box: a whole assortment of mysteries, waiting to be discovered..
Her guidance through the slapped-together story makes the experience count. There are enough loose threads or questionable leads to make each plot point their own contestant on the talent show featured at the heart of the film. What points matter more than others? Does that possible romance go anywhere? It was sure rushed to start with. Did Fanning's character Violet have to go off the rails even for a second? We don't get a real sense as to why she would.
Many of these questions may have been answered by scenes left on the cutting room floor. The film is very short; that shouldn't have happened. Either that, or these plot elements made sense in Minghella's head, but were not fleshed out enough here.
Don't expect a super tight story, and Teen Spirit will be worth a shot. The unity created by song and vision is credible enough. Any Elle Fanning supporters are sure to give this nuanced performance a go, too. If there is anything else I can recommend here, it's how Minghella does trick you the occasional time. The roller coaster created by the unnecessarily abrupt ending, only to find the film briefly continues through the credits, was a nice touch. It was a legitimate creation of disappointment-turned-relief: a theme often present in Teen Spirit. Other narrative risks would have sufficed, but Teen Spirit is at least a blissful flick that takes you to an audible cruise for a little while.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.