"Teen Spirit" carried by dynamic lead

Elle Fanning appears in a scene from "Teen Spirit."

It's a story you've seen many, many times before, yet I found myself totally engaged with "Teen Spirit" - Max Minghella's directorial debut about the rise of an aspiring singer.

"Spirit" doesn't stray too far from the formula of the similar films that proceed it and is very, very predictable yet it works because of Elle Fanning. She is absolutely mesmerizing from the first moment she appears on screen, making me buy every single note. 

Fanning plays Violet, a shy teen living in a small island town in the UK with dreams of a better life. Violet lives with her mom Marla (Agnieszka Grochowska) in a rundown family home - with mom still holding on to the hopes that Violet's dad will return after abandoning them years earlier.

Violet wants to be a singer and secretly auditions for a singing competition show called "Teen Spirit" - hoping this could be her ticket to stardom. With the help of a former opera singer named Vlad (Zlatko Buric) Violet begins her quest to win the competition.

Minghella, who also wrote the film, doesn't stray too far from the rising star formula, but he films it with an impressively visual flair - shooting the story through a pop music filtered lens that perfectly captures the vibe of "Teen Spirit."

Buric is really good as the mentor. Minghella's script does a good job of using Vlad's drunken has-been to be the balance to Violet's rose-colored dreams. He has lived this world she aspires to step into and knows that it's not all it appears to be.

Rebecca Hall also appears briefly as a record executive who may or may not  have Violet's best interests in mind. It's a small, but mostly effective role.

But everything that truly makes "Teen Spirit" work comes right back to Fanning. The 21-year-old actress continues to make interesting career choices and Violet is no exception. It's a role she has sort of done before in "Neon Demon," but it has added layers (she pulls off the British accent and is a pretty good singer too). 

Fanning puts her heart and soul into the role and the audience feels that. You may know every turn "Teen Spirit" takes well before it comes, but Fanning keeps you invested every step of the way. It's a performance that elevates the material.


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