London, 1962. Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) have been best friends since they were kids. But, the turbulent 60s are about to land on them when the sexual revolution, the Cold War and its nuclear threat may prove too much for the friendship of “Ginger & Rosa.”
Writer-director Sally Potter creates a period slice of life that follows the lives of two young women coming of age during the volatile 1960s. It is about the fears of the day through the eyes of the title characters. Ginger and Rosa have been friends, with common interests, for years. The Cold War is in full blow and the two teens are awash in the dangers of nuclear war at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. How the girls each handle this dangerous new world is what “Ginger & Rose” is all about.
Ginger is becoming more and more the activist who wants the world rid of the bomb and peace and social equality for all. Rosa is more concerned with her life and happiness, going as far as having an affair with Ginger’s dad, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), despite what it does her best friend’s mom, Natalie (Christina Hendricks). This is the brink for both girls as they transition into womanhood and see the connection they once had dissolve.
The young stars get solid, if uninspired, support from the veteran actors – Nivola, Hendricks, Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt as Rosa’s gay uncles and Annette Bening as Rosa and Ginger’s free-spirited muse. Relative newcomer Alice Englert is good as Rosa but she and the rest are overshadowed by the stunning performance by 13-year old (at the time) Elle Fanning. She plays 16-year old Ginger and the young actress becomes the character. There is tremendous maturity in her performance, which I also saw in “Super 8,” and Fanning is destined for good things.
This is an interesting period piece that shows London at the time of the Cuban Crisis. The characters around G&R are two-dimensional at best but this allows Fanning to command the screen, even opposite award-winning, seasoned veterans. Production is simple and the period details are spare, as is the feel of the film. I give it a C+.
In 1945, two baby girls were born side by side in a London hospital. Seventeen years later, the two are inseparable, playing hookey, experimenting with hair and makeup and talking about just about everything. The times are volatile and the girls are trying to find their way, preferably as far away from the domestic lives their mothers lead. But sex and politics and the attention of one man will pull apart "Ginger & Rosa."
Writer/director Sally Potter has been exploring women's roles and romance throughout her career, from the period piece "Orlando" to a modern career woman's affair told in iambic pentameter ("Yes"). This film feels very personal and Potter has done a great job capturing the feel of a specific place and time through a very specific set of eyes. The film may be called "Ginger & Rosa," but the movie's all Elle Fanning's ("Somewhere").
She's Ginger, the one who leans towards poetry and activism. She's the only child of the strained marriage between two creative types - Natalie (Christina Hendricks, AMC's 'Mad Men'), a frustrated artist/housewife and the charismatic full time intellectual Roland (Alessandro Nivola, "Face/Off," "Junebug"). Rosa (Alice Englert, "Beautiful Creatures") is the only daughter of single mom Anoushka (Jodhi May, who made her own tweenie acting splash in 1987's "A World Apart") and leans more towards the things all girls her age tend to lean towards - with one major exception - Rosa sure doesn't regard Roland the same way his daughter does.
Roland encourages the girls by taking them out on his boat and the dynamic continues to shift. Ginger's uncomfortable, and in many ways jealous, especially when her friend and her dad bond emotionally over Schubert, and Potter pushes the scenes enough to make her audience feel uncomfortable as well. But Ginger's a strong character who gets involved in the anti-nuke movement as the Cuban Missile Crisis heats up, garnering male attention of her own. When her parents separate, she runs off to the Bohemian nest of her gay godfather Mark (Timothy Spall, "Harry Potter's" Wormtail), his lover Mark Two (Oliver Platt, Showtime's 'The Big C') and their American friend, poet May Bella (Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"). Ginger never sees Rosa anymore, except in a most unsavory role, and when she finally returns home to her mom after a traumatic protest arrest, she sets the charge that will finally dynamite her world.
Elle Fanning is turning out to be quite the actress and she really carries this film, weathering her own adolescence while also shouldering rocky adult relationships and world events. Also terrific is Nivola, perfect as the handsome charmer whose ideals prove to be less strongly held than his daughter's. If at first we admire Roland's open mind, we eventually come to see the conscientious objector as a coward. Englert has a smoldering presence, but her character's betrayal feels awfully abrupt and I suspect that fault lays with Potter.
The writer/director has taken on so many story elements, that her tale begins to ramble a bit, the sojourn with the two Marks like a mini Bloomsbury grouping. There's an awful lot of freedom on display, especially for 1962. But Potter gets so many things right - she cast Fanning as her lead after all. "Ginger & Rosa" is an unusual coming-of-age film, one that if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole lot more to shape one.
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