Ginger and Rosa (2012) ***1/2
Dir. Sally Potter
Starring: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Annette Bening, Oliver Platt, Timothy Spall
Review By Greg Klymkiw
I can't say I've ever been fond of Sally Potter's movies. Even the acclaimed Orlando left me cold. This, however, all changed with her new picture, the heartfelt period drama Ginger and Rosa. Focusing its lens upon a pair of teenage girls on the deep cusp of burgeoning womanhood in Britain when Cold War hysteria over the "Bomb" was, perhaps, at its highest, this is a film that paints an evocative portrait of a time and place that I think has added resonance for audiences in our contemporary world of strife and warfare.
First and foremost, it's a delicate portrait of a close friendship that goes awry during an era that's just on the other side of the fence that was the swinging, turbulent 60s and when Bob Dylan would soon let the world know that "the times, they are a changing."
Ginger (13-year-old Elle Fanning pulling off 17 like there's no tomorrow) and Rosa (Alice Englert) have been friends practically since birth - two peas in a pod for most of their lives. At first, they rally round the anti-bomb movement together, but it's Ginger who displays the most commitment whereas Rosa is becoming increasingly boy crazy.
Ginger is a soulful child and has to suffer daily bickering between her very Liberal Dad and Mom (Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks) who are hitting an especially turbulent rough patch in their relationship. When her folks split up, Ginger develops an especially close relationship with Dad and at first, he seems determined to open himself fully to this opportunity.
Rosa, however, engages in a torrid affair and it so interferes with her commitment to the "cause" that Ginger becomes frequently annoyed. When the affair turns out to be the last thing Ginger ever imagined happening with Rosa, a strange rivalry sets in.
When Potter's lens is trained on the title characters, the film really works like crackerjack. Less successful are the sequences involving Ginger's relationship with a group of adult lefty activists (all wonderfully played by Annette Bening, Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall). The scenes are good, but they seem to undermine the carefully wrought and poignant disintegration of the girls' friendship.
It oddly feels like a literary sidetrack rather than a cinematic one, but it's a minor blip (and occasionally engaging one) in an otherwise compelling narrative.
What Potter captures and evokes so beautifully are all the details of their BFF rituals (lipstick, smoking, dolling-up, etc.) and its eventual disintegration as both discover very different needs, wants and goals.
As a character-driven drama, the movie's performances have to be at a high level for the picture to work at all and I'm happy to report that the entire cast acquits themselves beautifully (even those in the section that slows the movie down unnecessarily).
However, the film's distinct highlight is the remarkable Elle Fanning. She burst upon the scene with a star-making performance in J.J. Abrams's otherwise highly avoidable Super 8 as the geek girl from the wrong side of the tracks. The camera not only loved her, but she delivered the goods in two important ways. As the "love interest" for the makeup-effects-obsessed juvenile lead, she acquitted herself nicely with the kind of dreamy, romantic, yet mouth-watering innocence not unlike the great child performances of Hayley Mills in the classic Disney films from the 1960s. Even more astounding were her "acting" sequences in the super-8 horror film her character plays in. Acting like you're acting is always a tough stretch for any actor, but to deliver this with such expertise as a child actress was simply and utterly astounding.
With Ginger and Rosa, Fanning (sister of former child star Dakota Fanning) pulls off the incredible aforementioned feat of being 13 in real life, but playing 17 in Potter's movie. She keeps a straight face whilst evoking the serious young girl who rails against a system that seems so far out of her reach, yet would not change without her activism. We know her commitment will yield disappointing results (the Cuban Missile Crisis is an eventuality here, as well as increased warfare in Vietnam and JFK's assassination), but Fanning's gaze (she has great eyes) are windows into the character's very soul.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is no mean feat.
It's ultimately a movie for all, but I think young kids and teens - boys and girls - especially deserve a shot at seeing this movie on a big screen. The period detail is top notch, down even to the performances themselves (especially important as many directors and actors ignore how differently people spoke and/or moved in earlier periods). As such, Potter renders a world that's not ephemeral like so many contemporary films about youth are (and notably even period pictures). Potter yields an overall experience that speaks to both the will and helplessness of our youth in a world that again has gone terribly awry, a world that might soon be dead if not for the genuine commitment and resistance of our youth today.
It's the kids who will effect change and to that end, Ginger and Rosa is an inspiration.
"Ginger and Rosa" is in limited theatrical release via Union Pictures.