Teen Spirit




A Polish schoolgirl discovers her voice in Max Minghella’s affecting directorial debut.

Teen Spirit

Elle Fanning and Zlatko Burić


At heart, Teen Spirit is the story of an aspiring singer who finds her voice – and confidence – to follow her dream. If that sounds prosaic, the film does throw a number of curve balls into the narrative. Set on the Isle of Wight, it stars the American-born Elle Fanning as a Polish schoolgirl, Violet Valenski, who cleans and waits tables to help support her single mother. While a loner at school, she has two great loves: her horse and her singing. The film opens in the fields of the island, where Violet cares for her steed, a creature that she seems to have more in common with than the boys at her school. Nonetheless, she secretly attends the local disco and sings at the empty bar where she works and, in spite of the oppressive ways of her mother, she tries to be a relatively normal teenage girl. One night, a fat, scruffy old man compliments her on her singing and offers her a lift, which she wisely declines. But when, at the bus stop, she is approached by a gang of rowdy boys, she slips back to the club and takes up the old man’s offer…


These early scenes are unfolded in quite a muted way, as if first-time director Max Minghella is resisting any flamboyant pretensions to be his father’s son, perhaps trying to find his feet before he can run. He is, of course, the scion of the late Anthony Minghella, the director of Truly Madly Deeply, The English Patient, The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain. And as Violet, Elle Fanning’s underplaying – and faultless English accent – make us warm to this shrinking, well, violet, who pretty much keeps her dreams to herself.


The film is as much about outward appearances as it is an X-Factor reality show, while also exploring the hardship of being an immigrant in Britain today. It turns out that the old man, Vlad, in spite of his dishevelled façade, used to be a successful opera singer in his native Croatia. And, against expectations, he gradually takes on a paternal position in Violet’s life. Of course, Vlad comes with his own demons but nonetheless he and Violet find a bond that is genuinely affecting.


Zlatko Buric plays the former, the Croatian-Danish actor who made his name in Nicolas Winding Refn's Bleeder (1999) and Refn's Pusher trilogy and, like the film itself, he exerts a quiet authority. And Elle Fanning not only acts many of her scenes in Polish but gets to sing and dance as well. Only the film’s later act – which shan’t be revealed here – fails to ring entirely true, but by then we have made enough of an emotional investment in the film that we  just go along with it.




Cast: Elle Fanning, Zlatko Burić, Agnieszka Grochowska, Rebecca Hall, Clara Rugaard, Millie Brady, Olivia Gray, Marius de Vries.


Dir Max Minghella, Pro Fred Berger, Screenplay Max Minghella, Ph Autumn Durald, Pro Des Kave Quinn, Ed Cam McLauchlin, Music Marius de Vries, Costumes Mirren Gordon-Crozier.


Automatik Entertainment/Interscope Films/Blank Tape-Lionsgate.

93 mins. UK/USA. 2018. Rel: 16 September 2019. Cert. 12A.