Teen Spirit
Nope. Nothing to do with Nirvana.

By Yong Shu Hoong

With a title like Teen Spirit, this directorial debut of actor Max Minghella might stir up false hope in Nirvana fans that it’s a Kurt Cobain biopic. Far from it. But I have to admit “Teen Spirit” is a pretty cool name for a fictitious British TV singing competition in the vein of American Idol – which is really what the film is all about.

Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon, The Beguiled) plays a sweet, reserved girl, who lives with her Polish single mum (Agnieszka Grochowska) in a small village on England’s Isle of Wight. A chance meeting with a former opera singer Vlad (Croatia-born Zlatko Buric, who played a drug lord in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher) at a seedy pub, where she sings, leads to him taking on the role of her guardian and manager for her audition for the Teen Spirit competition.

The off-the-beaten-track setting and unique characters make this obscurity-to-fame story a little less predictable. And who would have thought to cast Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) in the role of an intimidating judge who seems to enjoy the same level of respect and awe in the story as Simon Cowell does in real-life reality TV?

The snatches of foreign dialogue may lend some indie street cred, but do not quite mask the fact that, at its core, this is a musical version of the Rocky story, where an old, worldly coach trains and mentors a young contender. And there are only so many ways such a story can end.

Overall, the film lacks the glitzy commercial appeal of Damien Chazelle’s musical La La Land, which Fred Berger also produces. But it’s still an above-average music-driven slice of entertainment, with a rousing soundtrack featuring songs by the likes of Grimes, Whigfield and Aqua. Fanning puts up a commendable show, singing songs by Robyn, Ellie Goulding, Annie Lennox and more, and strutting her way towards her goal of stardom – and the film’s feel-good wrap-up.

Watch Teen Spirit on AppleTV+.

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