In the early 1960s much of the world are on edge. The threat of nuclear war hangs heavy in the air, and nothing feels certain. What a time to grow up and mould your identity as an adult. Two friends, both young and naïve, but with very different ideals forge their way through 1962 in Ginger & Rosa. Review after the jump.
Ginger (Elle Fanning) is both afraid and carefree. She fears “the bomb” and the threat of nuclear war is almost suffocating her; but she also loves life, laughter, freedom and her best friend since birth, Rosa (Alice Englet). The two girls are inseparable and make the same mistakes as teenagers have for all of time – the smoke, drink, hitch-hike, and generally put fun ahead of safety. Ginger worries greatly about the impending end of the world, and convinces Rosa to attend some protest meetings – she really wants to try to make an actual difference. Rosa takes a more relaxed approach and feels it is up to God. Prayer is the best hope they have.
At home things aren’t so rosy. Ginger’s pacifist father (Roland, played by Alessandro Nivola) is barely home, and her mother (Natalie, played by Christina Hendricks) suspects he is cheating. After one too many extended periods away from home the two separate, and Ginger decides to live with her seemingly laid back and hip father. Her mother loves her but she is so uptight and Ginger is tired of being bound by her rules. Moving in with her father opens Ginger’s eyes to a number of things she probably wished she could have ignored. With freedom comes possibilities, but also consequences.
Elle Fanning delivers a mature and controlled performance as Ginger. Despite being only 13 years-old at the time of filming, Fanning is utterly convincing as the 17 year-old English school girl. Fanning’s performance and Ginger’s story arch are definitely the highlight in a film which otherwise becomes bogged down in manufactured melodrama and one-dimensional characters. Setting the film during such a time of unease in the world, allowed us to meet a character who was coming of age during a particularly confusing time. Ginger is a sensitive soul, and takes the nuclear threat to heart more than most. Her journey to try to make sense of living during this time, and trying to find a way to make a difference is both interesting and enduring.
I can only image what a fantastic film it would have been if it had been simply called Ginger, and had followed her character’s journey. Unfortunately director-writer Sally Porter chose a different path for the film, one of family fall-outs, scandalous affairs and god-awful parenting. When we first meet the girls, they are inseparable, and their energetic youth is infectious. However they have a serious falling out and the character of Rosa is transformed into a plot device for drama. Her actions devastate Ginger, and are used to create drama that really doesn’t need to be there. Ginger’s story is interesting enough, and this family drama only serves to drown out the real heart of the film. It certainly doesn’t help that the characters are neither likeable, nor particular interesting. Ginger’s godfathers (player by Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall) provide some interesting perspective, but they have far too little screen time to make an impact on the story.
Sally Porter has succeeded in creating a visually appealing film which showcases the barren, beautiful English countryside. Photography is excellent, with the use of light in particular helping to create a warm, youthful glow in earlier scenes between the two girls. One tense scene at a protest was also a highlight, with the fear and confusion of the occasion expressed wonderfully though both the camera work and Fanning’s raw performance. Ginger & Rosa had a fantastic story and character with Ginger, it’s such a shame that the Rosa side of things was allowed to dominate and weigh down what could have been a moving film.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Sally Potter
Writer(s): Sally Potter
Starring: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Oliver Platt, Christina Hendricks
Runtime: 90 minutes