A shy teenager dreams of pop stardom and enters an international singing competition as an escape from her small town and difficult family life, in actor Max Minghella’s (The Handmaid’s Tale) feature debut.
Seventeen-year-old Violet (Elle Fanning, also at the Festival in Galveston) lives with her mother (Agnieszka Grochowska) on a small farm on the Isle of Wight. Her days are spent doing chores, waiting tables, and attending secondary school, where she keeps to herself.
But in her free time - spent alone in her room, in the fields with her beloved horse, or at an under-attended open-mic night - Violet surrenders to song. She's a naturally gifted singer for whom pop stardom might not be mere fantasy. This lovely film, the directorial debut of actor Max Minghella (The Handmaid's Tale), tells the story of how Violet gathers the courage to come out of her shell with a bang.
This is also the story of a friendship. Vlad (Zlatko Buric), a once-celebrated opera singer, hears Violet and knows she's something special. He declares himself her manager and trainer, accompanying her as she tries out for a popular televised musical talent program called Teen Spirit. Vlad is a bear of a man with a tendency to drink away his sorrows, but if he and Violet can stick together as her star rises, they might just make each other better people.
This is a familiar story. In fact, one of Teen Spirit's executive producers is Jamie Bell (appearing at the Festival in both Skin and Donnybrook), whose breakthrough role was in Billy Elliot, a film with a similar trajectory. But Teen Spirit feels strikingly fresh.
Minghella and cinematographer Autumn Durald-Arkapaw combine a predominantly low-key visual style with occasional bursts of music-video sizzle, while Violet and Vlad make a loveable surrogate father-daughter team whose camaraderie is touching. Above all, Fanning has never given such a stunningly controlled performance, combining sustained withdrawal with sudden explosions of dazzling musical energy.
This film has been selected by the TIFF Next Wave Committee for the next generation of film lovers.