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« SXSW: "X & Y" | Main | [Drum Roll] It's the Film Bitch Awards Medals Ceremony »

SXSW: Elle Fanning has "Teen Spirit"

Abe Fried-Tanzer reporting from SXSW

It feels like every other movie these days is directed by a famous actor. There are a handful of them at SXSW this year, including Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart (reviewed) and Logan Marshall-Green’s Adopt a Highway starring Ethan Hawke. Both of those make sense given the type of films those actors have starred in, which match up decently with what they have made behind the camera. Max Minghella’s Teen Spirit, on the other hand, is a less expected debut.

Minghella is probably most recognizable from his starring role as the kindhearted Nick on The Handmaid’s Tale, and he also had a memorable part in The Social Network, among other things. His father was the late Oscar-winning Anthony Minghella (The English Patient). That piece of trivia makes the subject of Max’s first film even stranger since it doesn’t track with that kind of serious prestigious filmmaking either...

Teen Spirit is about a British singing competition in the style of American Idol, with Elle Fanning playing a country girl whose religious Polish mother hardly supports her daughter’s musical aspirations. Her mother forces her to enlist a former opera singer to be her guardian-turned-manager. This feels like a film straight out of the late 1990s or early 2000s, with virtually no cell phones and the idea that getting on television could be a person’s ticket out of their dead-end rural life. Its premiere at SXSW is understandable given the music industry focus, though it’s definitely not what either the kids or the adults are listening to today.

This journey, however audibly pleasing, is unconvincing mostly because of the energy level of its protagonist. Fanning’s Violet has a great voice  but she doesn’t exhibit any of the personality that could actually help someone net votes from viewers or enthusiasm from judges in this kind of competition. There is no moment at which anyone aside from Violet’s small circle of bandmates and supportive adults seems to be rooting for her, making her unsuspecting rise hard to believe.

Elle Fanning has proven her talents many times over (20th Century Women, Super 8, Ginger and Rosa, etc), so the failing here is surely in how the character is written and developed in Minghella’s script. Fanning still has a bright future ahead of her thanks to the charm she possesses that Violet, unfortunately, does not. Teen Spirit isn’t necessarily a bad movie; it just doesn’t do anything new. Those around the same age as its thirty-three-year-old director, might enjoy it for the nostalgia. 

Teen Spirit ones in theaters on April 5th

P.S. The “and” credit here is reserved for Rebecca Hall as a powerhouse judge on the show. Her supporting role is a reminder that the gifted actress (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Christine, The Town) should be headlining many more films.

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Reader Comments (3)

It seems like Fanning was probably miscast.

March 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

Sad to hear. I worry a little for movies now. No female seems hot as far as getting good roles. Emma Stone and Meryl Streep are the tier choices, and then it's downhill.

March 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Still excited to see this, especially with the new Carly Rae Jepsen song!

March 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

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