Critic’s Pick: ‘Teen Spirit’ Review: Elle Fanning Can Sing. Who Knew?

“Teen Spirit,” Max Minghella’s sweet and touching directing debut, is both proudly clichéd and refreshingly different. The rhythmic beats of his rise-to-fame story, about a teenage singing hopeful who enters a televised competition, are comfortingly familiar. Yet the poignant, almost despondent mood created by his visual choices and the raw vulnerability of his star, Elle Fanning, transform the pop energy of the soundtrack into a yearning cry to be heard.

Fanning plays Violet, a sensitive British 17-year-old who lives with her mother (Agnieszka Grochowska), a Polish immigrant. Aside from a beloved horse and a disappeared father, not much defines the character beyond her passion for music. Whether tethered to her iPod or singing in a greasy bar, Violet is in thrall to her tunes. And when a local drunk (Zlatko Buric) is revealed to be a fallen Croatian opera star with his own familial angst, the role of the problematic mentor and manager feels satisfyingly filled. All they need now is a national contest to showcase her talent.

the director Anthony Minghella (who died in 2008 and whose 1991 heartbreaker, “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” remains an exemplar of romantic-comedy perfection), he and his cinematographer, Autumn Durald Arkapaw, fashion a soft, almost dreamy aesthetic that even the neon-bathed stage scenes fail to puncture.

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