written and directed by Max Minghella
by Bill Chambers Pity about Teen Spirit, since it opens so well. Elle Fanning scrolls through her MP3 player to find the perfect song to start things off. A beat drops, and then we get the usual assortment of corporate logos. There's another great moment early on, where Fanning, having turned down a ride home from a slurring stranger who comes on like a dirty old man, is waiting at a bus stop late at night when she spies a group of young hooligans heading in her direction. The camera swipes across Fanning from one potential threat to the other: a clever visual that shows she's between a rock and a hard place. She chooses the dirty old man, Vlad (Zlatko Buric). He's a bear, but at least she wouldn't be outnumbered. Director Max Minghella clearly inherited some filmmaking chops from his old man, the late Anthony Minghella, though he asserts his individuality by shooting in anamorphic widescreen (something Anthony eschewed despite specializing in epics), and his overall style is relatively spastic; I waited in vain for Minghella to resist a gratuitous edit or camera movement. Fanning, by the way, plays a teenage chanteuse named Violet, forced to hide her passion from her mother (Agnieszka Grochowska), a proud, stern Polish immigrant who just wants her daughter to wait tables with her and stop these pop-star pipe dreams. It's a cold, cruel world out there where men abandon their families, after all, so you need a job you can depend on.
They live on the Isle of Wight, where the TV show "Teen Spirit"--think a mash-up of "Pop Idol" and "Britain's Got Talent"--is holding a casting call. Violet is determined to try out, but she needs a parent or guardian to accompany her. Fortunately, she just met Vlad, who is not only willing to pretend to be her uncle, but also a famous ex-opera singer. When he calls her talented, he knows of what he speaks, and he sticks by her throughout the process, offering wisdom from the sidelines that isn't always heeded or wanted. During Violet's first audition number, Minghella drifts into expressionism, cutting to images of things the song is making Violet think or feel; it's kind of dazzling, but the technique becomes a crutch. This must be the most montage-heavy movie since Rocky IV, which begins to affect the film's cognizance of its own tropes. I appreciated the way Minghella's technique makes mincemeat of a threadbare conflict between Violet and some mean girls from her school, but at one point Violet returns home to find her mother selling Violet's beloved horse, and I don't think I was alone in wondering, "When did she get a horse?!" The problem, too, is that Minghella at times appears to be covering for Fanning, Kuleshov-ing and Eisenstein-ing the hell out of a surprisingly joyless performance in an attempt to add colours to it. Fanning can't seem to shake the Neon Demon in this superficially similar Cinderella story, and her accent's impenetrable to boot. Programme: Special Presentations