Tuesday 11 June 2019

Smells Just Like...

At first glance, ‘Teen Spirit’ has the opportunity to glide under the radar, despite the star power and writer/director Max Minghella’s lineage. It isn’t a film that overtly demands to be seen or heard, very much like Elle Fanning’s character Violet. She likes to sing but doesn’t really have a plan beyond entering a competition. Despite this, the film is an underdog about a would-be underdog, it has a glow that would entice an audience to give it a chance realise how wonderfully understated it is.

Violet likes to sing, whether it’s in her room, on the farm where she lives with her mother, or in the fields. When a singing contest show comes to her home town on the Isle of Wight, she takes the opportunity to audition. But can she stay true to herself as she edges closer to fame and fortune?

The TV is littered with reality shows and talent contests that is overwhelming and quite dull when flicking through the channels BUT everyone watches some form of reality TV (mostly because you can’t escape it) so having the film been centred around a TV singing contest is both an odd choice but universally recognised. It’s a familiar setting and sets in motion Violet’s dream for fame and fortune. She wants to compete and wants to win BUT really, she just likes singing. She doesn’t go into any more detail, instead, she lets her voice and later her performance show how much she loves singing. The performance she gives, from the audition to the finale of the show, are inter cut with all the places she feels she can be truly free. Singing is her way to forget her home life, her work and a sense of loneliness, which is also something that is never really touched upon.

At the heart of the story, aside from Violet’s love of singing, is an unlikely friendship/father-daughter dynamic between Violet and Vlad, a Croatian Opera singer decades past his prime. He at first insists on being her manager after she asks him to pose as a guardian for the audition, but over time he becomes more than a coach/manager, he becomes the father figure that she didn’t she needed. At times it feels strained and odd to have this duo at the centre of the film, but Vlad serves as both a warning of where success can lead as well as the person who gives wise sage advice. Every star needs a mentor and Violet is no different.

Screened as the opening night film at the newly minted Fragments Film Festival in East London, it served as a diamond in the rough and kicks off the festival’s diverse programme, their answer to the big studio films. Having this festival at Genesis Cinema, a well-established indie cinema in the area and London as a whole is new and exciting. I hope that other indie cinemas take note and this idea of festivals catered to members catches on. On a personal note especially as I live the other side of London and the east is always a pain to get to!

‘Teen Spirit’ does feel like a first feature, with the familiar beats and characters BUT it also serves as taster of what Minghella will make next and seeing this film, I definitely can’t wait to see!