|Sounds Like Teen Spirit: A Popumentary, directed by Jamie J. Johnson ( United Kingdom, 2009) 93 min.|
June 7, 2009 4:00 PM, Kirkland Performance Center
Sounds Like Teen Spirit: A Popumentary (Sparkle Motion Saves The World!!)
review by Chris Estey
For a director who claims the caustic satire of Spinal Tap and Best In Show as inspirations for doing this documentary about the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, Jamie J. Johnson gives a surprisingly affectionate and empathetic view of the very young performers competing in the gauche affair. His crew captured rehearsals by kids in countries like Cyprus, Belgium, and in the Ukraine; and don’t forget Belarus.
Sounds Like begins with clips from the archived 70s success of ABBA — when most Americans ever became aware of such a thing as a Eurovision pop performer competition, which launched artists for decades the same way American Idol does here. It concludes with that band’s pretty corny but still damned poignant “Winner Takes It All” as the sad and happy faces of the tweens winning and losing are displayed during the announcement of the contest’s results.
As silly as this might seem to most American rock fans, this is pretty big stuff for a large part of the European continent, and Johnson really tries hard to show how it all comes together throughout the performers’ intimate struggles (Bulgaria contestant’s run-off father, who she hopes will be watching her perform on TV that night) and during national conflicts (Russia’s chaos when they returned after the event).
The bright eyed and bushy tailed ten to 15 year olds giving it their all for the top prize seem mostly pretty self-aware, and don’t hesitate to discuss how, say, projected homophobia from peers has actually made them achieve more (and say they are actually thankful for it). There isn’t much historical background on the annual contest, though, and no focus on the judges — it’s the story of the performers, their hopes and dreams and the darkness and banality they come from.
It’s no surprise that the best part of the documentary is the humor, which it could have used more of. But every time the camera took in the absolute zaniness of the Russian group’s leader’s ambition, I was glad I stayed through the whole thing. You’ve got to catch this just to see this young girl completely go over the top in every routine; and of course when the results are given, her response is absolutely visually operatic.