“Teen Spirit”

 

            Violet (Elle Fanning) is a farm girl in the U.K. She feeds the horses and the cows.  Her Mom, Marla (Agnieska Grochowska) insists on trying to keep up with the rambling, broken down money pit, perhaps in hopes that her husband, who left her, will someday return.  Violet has quit harboring that hope, but she does have a secret ambition:  she wants to be a singer.  So far, it's only been in the church choir, and a sad sack karaoke bar, which she juggles along with her waitress job and her high school courses.  When there's a national talent show called “Teen Spirit,” Violet is interested, but doesn't know how to go about entering, and is too shy to ask anybody about it, even though some of her schoolmates are planning to be at the audition.

            One night Violet sings to an unappreciative audience at the karaoke bar (well, there is some piano accompaniment, but most of the singers are singularly untalented), and there is one enthusiastic patron, an old bearded man who looks drunk and unkempt, because he is.  He talks to Violet on the way out, offering to give her a ride home,but her “stranger danger” radar tells her this would be a good night to take the bus.  So she's waiting alone at the bus stop when she hears a bunch of guys walking up, catcalling her, and she senses worse danger.  So she goes back to the old guy at the karaoke bar and takes him up on that ride, after all.  Turns out that Vlad (Zlatko Buric), though dishevelled, is quite harmless.  He tells her he's a former opera singer, and he thinks she has talent, so much so that he's willing to be her manager.  Yes, they make an unlikely pairing, the lithe, smooth-faced, wide-eyed innocent, and the big, oafish, bleary-eyed has-been.  But somehow it works.  Because they need each other.  And they both need a break.

            Writer and Director Max Minghella seems more comfortable with the music video aspect than with developing the awkward relationship between Violet and Vlad.  Yes, he tells her about the importance of breathing properly, but they have a big fight at the finals, and she goes to party too hard at the disco, and he goes on a drunken bender, winding up on a park bench.  Not exactly the script for “A Star Is Born.”  But the whole thing works because Elle Fanning is fantastic in this complex role, and makes Violet both vulnerable and believable, if not always sweet and cuddly.

            Of course, just because Violet has won a talent show does not necessarily mean that she will be the next big recording star.  But we can hope along with the shy little country girl that her talent will take her a lot farther than the local karaoke bar, the ignominious graveyard of many musical ambitions.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association