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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Teen Spirit -- actor Max Minghella's directorial debut -- is an indie drama about Violet (Elle Fanning), a teen who secretly wants to be a singer. Despite her quiet demeanor at school, she enters a big reality talent show's local audition and is unexpectedly thrown into a national competition. Expect some underage drinking and smoking, as well as a few scenes of both teen and adult characters drunk. In one scene, Violet is nearly sexually assaulted before someone forces her aggressor off her. There's also kissing, flirting, and some swearing, including "s--t" and "piss off." Although Fanning, who does her own signing, is a well-known actress, this drama is most likely to appeal to teens who enjoy smaller, independent films. The story shows how, through mentorship and honing your talents, you can grow from good to extraordinary.
What's the story?
TEEN SPIRIT -- actor Max Minghella's directorial debut -- follows Violet (Elle Fanning), a high schooler living on the Isle of Wight (a small island off the coast of England). For the first time ever, the titular reality talent show is scouting there for contestants. Shy Violet, who loves to sing and even has little gigs at a local pub, decides to enter the competition, along with most of the fame-seeking girls in her class. When she's selected to continue to the next stage, Violet knows she can't count on her single mother, a working-class Polish immigrant, to sign the consent forms, so she asks 60-something drunk Vlad (Zlatko Buric), who'd complimented her singing. He agrees to the pretense in exchange for the opportunity to be Violet's manager. It turns out that Vlad was once a famous Croatian opera singer, so he really does help Violet. But as Violet gets closer to her dream -- competing in the Teen Spirit finals -- she must come to terms with her past, her ambition, and what singing means for her future.
Is it any good?
This quiet, contemplative indie drama is unevenly paced but features another capable performance by Fanning, who's a surprisingly good singer. Teen Spirit doesn't have the emotional impact of A Star Is Born or the riveting framing story of Vox Lux's pop star. And it's not going to appeal to audiences who prefer their musician films about real-life artists. But it is touchingly effective as something altogether different: a mentor/mentee story and, for once, a friendship between an older man and a younger woman that's paternal instead of creepy. Buric's Vlad inspires empathy, even as he goes on a bender and alludes to -- but never fully explains -- his descent from revered singer to a drunk who's basically living out of his car.
There's a sweet moment when Vlad tells the insecure Violet that she has what it takes to be extraordinary: Her voice, presumably like his, is a gift she must not squander (like he did). There's a less satisfying subplot involving Violet's relationship with her backing band, which consists of three charming classmates, one of whom is clearly interested in her. This isn't a typical teen movie with a swoony central romance. Instead, Violet all but pushes her sweet suitor away by being interested in a former Teen Spirit winner. As a singer, Fanning holds her own covering Ellie Goulding ("Lights"), Annie Lennox ("Little Bird"), and Irene Cara ("Flashdance ... What a Feeling"), and she's believable as a Billie Eilish-meets-Lorde indie-pop darling. The movie itself isn't as memorable as its soundtrack, but it is a decent enough entry in Fanning's filmography.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Teen Spirit depicts drinking and smoking. Is it a realistic portrayal of substance use and abuse? How is the impact different between underage drinking/smoking and adult drinking/smoking?
Can people with deep and evident flaws still be role models? What makes Vlad such a helpful, almost paternal figure to Violet?
Do you think Violet made the right decision? How is mentorship depicted in the story, and why is it important to have mentors?
- In theaters: April 12, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: July 16, 2019
- Cast: Elle Fanning, Rebecca Hall, Zlatko Buric
- Director: Max Minghella
- Studios: Bleecker Street, LD Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Character strengths: Humility, Perseverance
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some suggestive content, and for teen drinking and smoking
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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