Seven Days of Streaming

Seven Days of Streaming: The Beguiling Versatility of Elle Fanning

From the hazy melancholy of Somewhere to the bright colours of Teen Spirit, here's how to curate your own Elle Fanning season at home in seven key films

In Seven Days of Streaming, we guide you in curating your own mini film season based around an actor or director with a particularly eclectic, underseen, or unappreciated filmography, spun over seven days of programming.

Ice skating, period dressing, protesting, singing, producing – Elle Fanning is 22 years old, and has done enough for a lifetime. Her career, which began when she appeared alongside sister Dakota at age three in 2001's I Am Sam, is shockingly versatile. Each and every performance feels focused and singular, which is what makes leafing through her back catalogue so rewarding and fascinating.

Exactly 10 years ago, Fanning broke through with Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, and would reunite with the director seven years later for The Beguiled. The actress has worked with some of the finest independent auteurs around – as well as Coppola, there are collaborations with Mike Mills, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Sally Potter – while also finding time to prove her worth as a Disney princess in Sleeping Beauty spin-off Maleficent.

Now, she's as busy as ever. Last year Fanning made history as the youngest person to feature as a jury member at the Cannes Film Festival, whilst 2020 has already seen a second collaboration with Sally Potter in The Roads Not Taken, not to mention her first producing credit for Netflix. Not sure where to begin with this extraordinary career? Here’s our guide to seven key – but nowhere near expansive – titles to get to know Elle Fanning…

 

Day 1: Somewhere (2010)

Where to watch it: Prime Video (rent)

It begins with a felt-tip scrawl on a plaster cast, and an ice-skating routine to a Gwen Stefani song. Elle Fanning only enters into Sofia Coppola’s contemplative mid-life crisis movie Somewhere after about 15 minutes, but then quietly makes herself indispensable. As 11-year-old Cleo, Fanning is the sweet, polite, somewhat estranged daughter to lifeless actor du jour Johnny Marco. She sees her dad sporadically, visiting him at the Chateau Marmont, where they play Police songs on Guitar Hero and sunbathe in blissful silence. Fanning’s performance is ingenuous, robust and pivotal (her one display of negative emotion is sharply chosen), but still only as threatening as the most well-behaved 11-year-old could ever be. It was here that she began to refine her approach to crucial young characters; afterwards the scripts never stopped coming.

 

Day 2: The Beguiled (2017)

Where to watch it: Prime Video (rent)

Sofia Coppola clearly knew before most people just how dextrous a performer Fanning was, and stressed this once more when she cast her in the 2017 remake of The Beguiled. The film sees the actress integrate a group dynamic with ease, and toy with the wholesome illusion of her appearance by working with layers upon layers of mind games and mischief. The story sees a sparsely populated girls’ school in Virginia take in a wounded army corporal during the Civil War, played by Colin Farrell. At first he's seen as a threat, but soon becomes the source and target of both malice and seduction. Fanning plays the most truculent young woman, resentful of the humdrum of lessons and thrilled by the prospect of something new. She swans in and out of frame, and deals in taunting waves of playfulness. It feels like a double, or triple performance – she feigns obedience to her elders, hiding her plainness from the man. Back arched and chin cocked, there seems to be a thousand thoughts going on behind one polite smile. A wickedly complex performance, and a deviously enjoyable watch.

 

Day 3: 20th Century Women (2016)

Where to watch it: Prime Video (rent)

There are no two-dimensional characters in Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women, a portrait of a mother doing her best to raise her son alongside a satellite network of eclectic loved ones. Fanning plays Julie, best friend to Jamie – the son in question. Their dynamic is as quietly confusing as you’d imagine for any two 15-year-old – they often sleep in the same bed, but she refuses to have sex with him to preserve their friendship. Julie is more than just Jamie’s sleepover companion, however, and Fanning plays this with gentle complexity. As an actor she juggles a great number of tasks here, as Julie looks out for her friend as a sibling (and is even instructed to, by Dorothea, Jamie's mother) while later grappling with the murky notions of platonic love and intimacy that are so often lost in translation. While no means the central character, Fanning affords Julie an arc that stays with you long after you’re told she has moved on.

 

Day 4: The Neon Demon (2016)

Where to watch it: Prime Video (rent)

Even if you're yet to see Nicolas Winding Refn’s neon-drenched nightmare about the LA fashion industry, you will probably have seen Fanning’s face selling it everywhere already. With gold foil and glittering sequins stuck to poreless skin, Fanning’s physical appearance dictates the narrative of this movie entirely. As Jesse, an aspiring young model, there is at first something of the emotional innocence of Somewhere’s Cleo – but it’s pushed to extremes, and happily manipulated and inhaled by everyone within spitting distance. No one cares to get to know Jesse, and Fanning plays this bone-deep chilliness with smooth, calm exteriors. “I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t write. No real talent. But I’m pretty. And I can make money off pretty,” Jesse intones. It’s a sobering and sad thought, her command of distanced body language and superficial scorn utterly shattering.

Day 5: All the Bright Places (2020)

Where to watch it: Netflix (stream)

The Netflix YA drama All the Bright Places might look fairly vanilla on the surface, but there’s torturous detail here. Fanning earned her first producing credit on this movie, bringing to life Jennifer Niven’s best-selling novel by also playing the story’s heroine, Violet Markey. Fanning’s performance follows a familiar trajectory – taciturn and distant at first, growing more effusive and explosive as the film develops. She’s well-matched by Justice Smith, as the pair show an chemistry and generous patience for one another. The realm of Netflix YA fiction feels different to that of independent coming-of-agers, or even Disney fairytales. It’s sugary, but asks for a melodramatic punch when necessary. Fanning, with her whispery resilience and cathartic depiction of grief, masters it with ease.

 

Day 6: Ginger & Rosa (2012)

Where to watch it: Prime Video (rent)

Proving her versatility early on, Fanning embraced 1962 London as a headstrong teenager keen to make a difference in an unstable world in Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa. It's a coming-of-ager on the brink of the apocalypse, a film in which the friendship of two teenage girls is forced to mean everything as the world around them falls apart. Fanning dons a British accent as Ginger, keeping focus on the steely mission of her character as she tries to make it out alive. There’s no syrupy innocence, as Ginger’s lack of experience in the world frustrates her no end. Fanning’s staunch performance solemnly anchors the young woman’s fears and desires, which could (and often do) devolve into ridicule. But even moments of melodrama are played with unwavering respect and power, making the urgency of dramas both microscopically domestic and globally catastrophic feel equally heavy.

 

Day 7: Teen Spirit (2018)

Where to watch it: Prime Video (stream)

The emotional antithesis of The Neon Demon and the geographical sequel to Ginger & Rosa, Teen Spirit has Fanning confirming her status as a triple threat and then some. She plays teenager Violet Valenski, dreaming big and taking her chances when the local eponymous talent show comes to town. The British accent returns, as does the sheepish, shy demeanour. If anything, Violet is dismissed for being too lanky, too reserved – there’s nothing of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Jesse here. But what makes Max Minghella’s kitsch and charismatic love letter to pop music so enjoyable is that Fanning sings all the songs herself, from nervous auditions to blistering full productions. Tegan and Sara, Ellie Goulding, Sigrid, Robyn – the actress masters an impressive back catalogue of bangers as if she were an X Factor winner first, Hollywood star second. The narrative framework is familiar, but the fairytale lensing and endlessly watchable central performance will bring colourful sound and vision to even the quietest lockdown.

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