You go to the fair, you get your cotton candy, you know what you’re in for: nearly unadulterated sweetness that melts into nothing almost as soon as you take it in. Elle Fanning plays a lonely Polish girl growing up on the Isle of Wight who enters the titular singing contest as a way to break free of her dreary life waiting tables and singing karaoke to sodden barflies — what do you think is going to happen? In the absence of narrative surprises, the viewer is left with Fanning’s effortless performance and first-time writer-director Max Minghella’s surprisingly sure hand and light touch. This critic confesses an admiration for Fanning’s ability — akin to Domhnall Gleeson’s — to communicate a range of interior states seemingly without changing her facial expression, and Minghella avoids all sorts of temptations toward gross indulgence. Zlatko Buric lends just enough emotional heft as a former opera singer and Fanning’s would-be manager, and while Fanning’s singing isn’t going to make anyone forget Lady Gaga in A Star is Born, it does what it’s supposed to do as a vehicle for the carefully chosen lyrics. A trifle, but a pleasant one.
Length: 1 hour, 32 minutes