A couple of years ago Elle Fanning starred in Neon Demon. In typical Nicolas Winding Refn fashion, the movie is a series of neon-lit tableau with a gory conclusion. It’s about the rise of a supermodel who becomes – literally and figuratively – fresh meat.
In Teen Spirit, Elle Fanning is thrust into a different part of the entertainment industry – a singing competition. The movie is also a neon-drenched fever dream in which the lights also turn off when Violet performs, save for flashes of neon color.
Teen Spirit borrows from Refn’s toolbox and it’s less self-indulgent and pretentious. But it doesn’t fare any better when it comes to storytelling.
The rest of the movie doesn’t live up to the ambition of its protagonist. As a matter of fact, everything here is underdeveloped. The script compensates with montages that only highlights its shortcomings.
We know little about her relationship with her mom. We’re told that she has no social life but can go to parties and spends the rest of the night on her own. Her daddy issues mirror the past of her mentor but we know little about Vlad. It’s interesting to see how a classically trained opera singer would help a potential pop star, but this too is reduced into a montage.
It doesn’t help that her journey towards stardom doesn’t make any effort to stray away from a derivative rising star template. She rises up the ranks but doesn’t have any formidable competition. She immediately gets led astray by a taste of freedom and being able to party all night. There’s an interesting twist here about power plays behind corny singing competitions that could’ve injected some life into the plot, but Rebecca Hall goes underutilized.
The movie neatly wraps up in the end. But none of it rings true because there is no compelling character arc, believable connections, and engaging story to support it.
Teen Spirit is essentially a music video stretched into a feature-length film.
Teen Spirit is a montage of music video moments patched together in a dull half-baked story about chasing your dreams.