Stop me if you've heard this one: a young person from a small town has some serious musical talent, but their parents don't seem to care. They're discovered by someone with connections to the business and get famous, seemingly overnight. The fame goes to their head, but eventually they learn what's truly important. It's a tale as old as time, from That Thing You Do! to Bohemian Rhapsody. Teen Spirit does absolutely nothing to reinvent the wheel, but it tells this cliché story with style and specificity.
Elle Fanning is magnetic as usual as Violet, an outcast living with her single, devout mother (Agniezska Grochowska) on the Isle of Wight. Working two jobs and singing at karaoke bars when she can, she dreams of leaving, but knows she'll probably be stuck forever. But a chance encounter with an ex-opera singer (Zlatko Buric) and an opportunity to audition for an American Idol-esque singing competition might be her ticket out.
But luckily Max Minghella, in his directorial debut, has plenty of style to spare, and an incredible music supervisor. Favoring songs by female solo artists, the tunes seem to capture Violet's feelings at any given moment. Her performances get better as the film goes along, and the humor does too. Until her audition, it's a pretty bleak movie.
In the film's third act, Rebecca Hall appears as an evil record executive. Her scenes recall the Black Mirror episode "Fifteen Million Merits," with the record contract she offers nothing but a Faustian bargain. Again, all stuff we've seen before. But the performances are all terrific – especially Buric as Violet's mentor – and the direction, influenced by music videos, is top-notch. The musical numbers are electric and there's no denying the film is a crowd-pleaser. Just don't expect Teen Spirit to be as revolutionary as "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
*This originally appeared as part of our 2019 Atlanta Film Festival coverage.