Ah yes, because the dramatization of AMERICAN IDOL clearly needed the big screen treatment.
The story looks like it’s about a young, small-town woman who loves to sing and get the chance to become famous when auditions for a singing competition come around and enters it.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Elle Fanning (GIRLS/PARTIES , BEGUILED , NEON DEMON , MALEFICENT , and upcoming films MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL  and ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES ) and Rebecca Hall (HOLMES/WATSON , DINNER , BFG , GIFT , IRON MAN 3 , and the upcoming GODZILLA VS. KONG ).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Max Minghelia, making his directorial debut; congrats, sir. One of the producers is Jamie Bell, making his debut as such; congrats, sir. Composing the score is Marius De Vries, known for SUCKER PUNCH (2011) and KICK-ASS (2010). The cinematographer is Autumn Durald, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of, and the upcoming THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR (2019). Finally, the editor is Cam McLauchlin, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of.
Overall, this movie has a few good things going for it. I sure do like Elle Fanning and Rebecca Hall has been having a rough go at the big screen lately. Still, I feel like this is a low-key NEON DEMON in disguise. I probably shouldn’t go in expecting that, but the biting competition elements and neon color scheme really has my fingers crossed.
This is my honest opinion of: TEEN SPIRIT
Set in the Isle of Wight, UK. Violet Valenski (Elle Fanning) is a Polish teenager living a hard life with her single mother Marla (Agnieszka Grochowska). She mostly lives a normal life, going to school, singing in the church choir, parties, and even works with her mother at a restaurant to help earn money. But she longs for a chance to prove that she’s a talented singer and finally gets it in the form of the popular reality TV show, Teen Spirit, which has launched many music careers in the past. Able to get through the qualifying rounds, she enlists the help of the kindly old Russian man Vlad (Zlatko Buric), who used to be an opera singer, to help her with her singing to advance in later stages of the competition.
Eh, crap. I think I’ve already forgotten this movie. Which is sad because I remember leaving the theater thinking that this was actually pretty good. Alright, let’s see about pulling from memory as I write.
The stand-out thing that I definitely remember is just how great Fanning was. And yes, that’s really her singing. She’s not dubbed or anything. She’s not dubbed by another artist, she ain’t lip-syncing, she’s just a talented boss like that. When she’s on stage belting out a song, she does what she does best and commands the stage. She also goes through a gauntlet of looks, ranging from innocent, to glamorous, to fierce, and she plays them all off incredibly naturally, as if she’s a veteran performer.
I really liked Vlad as a character. Make no mistake, he has a creepy-ass opening. He’s an overweight, drunken, unkempt old Russian man, the only one clapping after Violet finishes a song in the bar, meets her in the parking lot to say how talented she is and offering a ride home (a classic set-up to a horror movie right here), it’s pretty nuts. But as the story progresses, we see how he’s actually a really nice guy who means well, and is instrumental in her getting into the Teen Spirit competition. He gives her helpful singing lessons, he’s got a bit of humor in his own right, is super sweet to Marla, and grows to be very protective of Violet.
But, as I continue to write, there are some negatives that are coming back to me… mmph, and a lot of them.
One scene that definitely sucked is during an actual performance on Teen Spirit where the movie suddenly has to strobe-light the shit out of scene. I swear, this would kill an epileptic. Even I had to look away until it calmed the hell down. And I don’t care if this is something that singing competitions have done in the past, or even something that music artists do, it’s a problem in those scenarios, so it’s a problem here.
Now that I’m thinking about it, as great an actress as Fanning is, and as great as her stage presence is when she’s singing and performing songs, Violet as a character isn’t all that great herself. There’s a whole lot of build-up to when she starts singing, and because her character is bored with her current living, you can imagine how long it takes for both the story and her character to get interesting. Even when the motivation hits when she sees the billboard that advertises the show, we don’t exactly see a fire light under her ass. We just know that the story is going in that direction because the movie is titled “Teen Spirit.” There’s no scenes where she’s frantically practicing her singing in front of a mirror, picking out outfits, experimenting with looks, she just looks at that billboard like, “well, I guess those are my weekend plans.” I suppose there’s an argument that she’s cynical, as there’s a scene later on where she says that she doesn’t believe in love and that love isn’t real. Given her family backstory, I guess you can see that. But here’s the problem. It’s bad enough that this revelation in her character comes later in the film, bad enough that simply goes from a “bland Betty” to a “negative Nancy,” but this revelation never plays a real role in her development. Sure, she makes out with a guy, but that ends up leaving the story as fast as it enters it, so it makes no sense why this is a development at all.
Actually, that’s another problem with the movie now I’m thinking about it is the introduction to subplots that seem like they should be important, but ultimately get cut out of the story for… reasons. When Violet and Vlad are about to leave for London to go on the show, Marla gives Violet a crucifix necklace that belonged to her father. Now, you would think that would mean that she would somehow, someway, reunite with her father and have that be a big dramatic moment. There’s even a bit where she accidentally loses the necklace and is frantic about it. But once she gets it back for her big final performance for the show, she takes it off. Before anyone tells me that it’s symbolic of her accepting that she will never see her father again, this is barely a part of her that’s ever tapped into. One or two conversations about him, but you would never guess it from how she carries herself. Before the competition, she just seems like a lost kid waiting for her chance to be a big star. During the show, she’s just having fun by hooking up with guys, drinking, and dancing. I just don’t see where she’s thinking about her father.
There’s another subplot that makes it seem like Violet and Luke (Archie Madekwe) might end up getting together, since it dedicates a couple of scenes taking a mutual interest in their passions, and even bringing Luke along for the wild ride that is Teen Spirit. He gets into a “fight” with Keyan Spears (Ruairi O’Connor) when he gets too possessive of Violet while he and she are drunkenly making out, but this ultimately goes nowhere too.
<<<SPOILERS>>> [ This movie even does that cliché that all movies based around music do: getting offered a contract with lots of benefits and money, but that means selling out your friends. Ugh, I don’t want to make a JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS reference. Please don’t make me do that. ]<<<END SPOILERS>>>
Overall, the movie isn’t nearly as good as I remember it. Yes, the acting is really great and the two leads work really well off of each other, Fanning is a show-stopper when she’s singing, and there are some legit heartfelt moments. In fact, I have to thank this movie for reminding me that the song “Orbital” by Halcyon, which also played at the end of MORTAL KOMBAT (1995), exists. Boy, that took me way back. But the acting is undeserving of the material presented. Many subplots feel like filler, character development is nearly nonexistent, and just could have been much better. As a recommendation, though, I say it’s a rental at best. Fanning may be worth it for me, but I don’t speak for everyone in the world.
My honest rating for TEEN SPIRIT: 3/5
This week’s reviews:
Next week’s reviews: