Musicals are all the rage. Since La La Land and the subsequent box office and award-winning successes that were Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born, it seems like moviegoers and studios are craving seeing actors become musicians on the big screen. Max Minghella (The Handmaid’s Tale) was way ahead of this trend when he decided to take the musical genre and add a jolt of pop music to it to create his directorial debut Teen Spirit, in theaters now. The film follows fictional singer Violet (Elle Fanning) on her journey from dreaming of being a pop star to performing on an international singing competition show. While Teen Spirit appears to be perfectly timed in this musical boom, Minghella actually imagined the idea about 10 years ago when he first heard Robyn’s anthemic pop song “Dancing On My Own.”
In a Hollywood XYZ interview with fellow actor Jamie Bell, who worked as a producer on the film, Minghella explained how he was first struck with the idea to direct and write a film about a teenage contestant’s journey on an American Idol-like television show. The first time director said, “I heard this Robyn song ‘Dancing On My Own’ right when it came out and I just fell in love with the song.” Minghella was captivated by the song’s pairing of a pop production with melancholic lyrics. “I thought those are very interesting contrasts,” Minghella continued. “It kind of started from there and writing from that piece of music and it turned into this movie.”
The movie is categorized as a musical, but it doesn’t have the expected musical structure since Violet only sings when she is performing for an audience. She doesn’t randomly burst into song or use music to communicate dialogue, which is what Minghella prefers when watching musicals. He told Hollywood XYZ that when making the film he was “looking for a context in which there was a reason for people to sing a lot and be motivated to sing a lot.” The fake singing competition show, Teen Spirit, provided the perfect outlet. When explaining why the film is composed entirely of covers, including Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” Minghella said, “I also knew I wanted the movie to have covers and not to be original songs because when I go to a concert I like it when they play the hits and not the new album.”
Minghella told MTV News that the reason he chose to tell this story through Violet’s eyes is because he is “like a teenager at heart.” He added, “I love pop music. I love stories about different cultures. I most of all wanted to tell a story about a different kind of relationship.” He said he was given the advice that good movies are about two people so he wanted to explore that idea through a platonic relationship.
When speaking with Billboard, Minghella said that he wanted to express the relationship using a Cinderella story so that he “could use the grammar of a music video to create a narrative that feels unconventional.” In the film, Violet comes from humble beginnings. She is shown tending to the animals on her mother’s land and also waitressing after school. She then meets Vlad (Zlatko Burić), a former Opera singer whom she develops a mentor-mentee relationship with.
Since Teen Spirit doesn’t feature original music during the film (during the credits Fanning does sing a new track called “Wildflowers”, which was written by Carly Rae Jepsen and Jack Antonoff) Minghella needed permission to use all the songs, which explains the 10-year process.
Teen Spirit includes well-known pop songs like Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” and Annie Lennox’s “Little Bird.” Minghella told EW that music label Interscope Records helped move the production along when it allowed him to use these pop hits and more.
Fanning lends her voice to the songs to create the films accompanying 14-track soundtrack which is also out now. Although the process was long, Minghella’s film proves it was worth it. Each track simultaneously expresses Violet’s deep desire to be a pop star while also showing the progression of her vocal and performance skills during the course of the film. If you want to see a new type of musical or just love pop music, this film is probably pitch-perfect.