Written and directed by Max Minghella
Stars Elle Fanning, Zlatko Buric, Agnieszka Grochowska
Runtime 1 hour, 33 minutes
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
“I don’t believe in love. Love isn’t real.” – said with dramatic teen inflection
Picture it! The Yurasits household Christmas day circa 1989. At the age of six years and two months, The Old Sport (aka Rosalie Kicks) is wee. She notices under the tree, a sparkly, glittery present under the tree. There it sits, she can’t take her eyes off it. The bow twinkles under the lights filling her with so much hope and glee. Much like a tiger, The Old Sport claws away the wrapping and slashes through the tissue paper only to reveal the most disappointing gift ever given to a child: clothes.
This was a similar sentiment I had after watching Max Minghella’s feature directorial debut, Teen Spirit. With the neon lights and slick camera movements, this flick has a shiny exterior with very little going on inside. Even with the pleasing visuals, the biggest highlight for me was the ninety-three minute run time. Any additional time that I would have had to spend on this flick, I would have found to be rather inconvenient.
We are introduced to the star, Violet (Elle Fanning), a demure Polish teenager, milking a cow. She lives in a remote European town on a farm with her single mom, in a rustic farmhouse. It is the type of place that a thirty-something hipster (myself included), would deem as the perfect lodging when searching for a weekend getaway on Airbnb. The type of place to get away from the pesky city life!
Violet spends a lot of time working. In addition to her chores at the farm, she slings food and beverages at a local watering hole. Much of her money is surrendered to her mother. Unfortunately, we don’t get much insight into their home life situation. It is only realized they are struggling to make ends meet when the family horse is taken away. Plot points and story structure seemed to take a back seat in this musical wonderland.
When we learn of Violet’s singing ability, the scene is played off as rather lackluster. I did not get the sense from this moment that this is something the character feels passionate about. Instead, it is more played as this is a way that she lets off steam after a trying day at work. Even after she spots the advertisement for the American Idol- esque singing tryouts on her bus ride to school, she does not seem to be concerned with entering the competition until her classmates inquire whether she would be auditioning.
She seems to reluctantly enter the contest and walk through life completely oblivious. Throughout the film, I don’t feel we ever get a true sense of the character’s motivation. Maybe this lack of experience could be due to her sheltered life on the farm? Regardless, she is shocked to learn she will need a guardian in order to continue in the competition. This is where Vlad, or as I have deemed him, Uncle Fester (Zlatko Buric) comes in. She meets this oaf of a dude at the bar after performing one evening. He lovessssssss her voice so much that he offers her a ride home in his van… which is totally not creepy at all. After initially declining, she decides to take her chances to avoid trouble at the bus stop when she spots a group of raving mad werewolves (teen boys).
Later we learn that Uncle Fester is a disgraced Opera Singer – most likely caused by his incessant drinking. Regardless, mother allows him to accompany Violet to London. This is the point in the movie where you think – OK something has GOT TO HAPPEN. Farm girl in the big city. We have all seen this play out before in other esteemed flicks such as Babe: Pig in the City, Jason Takes Manhattan or Baby’s Day Out. Cities are where the chaos happens! Here’s the thing though… NOTHING HAPPENS. Unless you count a drunken evening that ends with a touchy feely make out session and waking up with frizzy hair… exciting stuff.
There is also so much pop singing. Full blown songs too - not just short interludes. Pop music is not particularly my cup of tea. I lost interest with this genre at a rather early age and took a liking to grunge and punk. According to Hollywood though, the most meaningful song in every and all teenage girls life is No Doubt’s, I’m Just a Girl. This is the second time this year, that I have heard this song used in a way that does nothing but induce an eye roll and long sigh. First it was the Captain Marvel fight scene and it makes an appearance in Teen Spirit, as Elle Fanning dances around in her skivvies, because apparently this is what all teen girls do when they are blowing off some steam… Nah.
Elle Fanning does not put on a bad performance. Instead, I would say she does a good job in a bad movie. There is no question, the director seems to have a handle on how to make a movie, there are some wonderfully composed shots. The script is where the issue lies. There is next to no conflict or tension, which causes the characters to walk through each scenario unscathed with no consequence. In the end you are left with a slick music video and a forgettable flick that under utilizes Elle Fanning and oh yea… Rebecca Hall too.