Directed by: Sally Potter.
Written by: Sally Potter.
Starring: Elle Fanning (Ginger), Alessandro Nivola (Roland), Christina Hendricks (Natalie), Alice Englert (Rosa), Timothy Spall (Mark), Oliver Platt (Mark Two), Annette Bening (Bella), Jodhi May (Anoushka).
The reason to watch Ginger & Rosa is Elle Fanning’s remarkable performance as Ginger. Odd for a teenage actress, she is actually playing older than she really is, but she has such maturity that you never doubt her. And also, she does such a spot on British accent, that you never doubt this American girl of the 2000s is really a British teen in the 1960s. Fanning has emerged, even more so than her sister Dakota, as one of the most promising young actresses working today. She carries Ginger & Rosa.
The movie, it must be said, is not up to her level. Written and directed by Sally Potter, who as a director has often taken bold risks – casting Tilda Swinton as a man, and extending Virginia Woolf’s original story in her breakthrough film Orlando (1992), writing a movie in iambic pentameter in Yes (2004) – Ginger & Rosa is surprisingly, and disappointingly, a rather generic coming of age story. Ginger (Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert, daughter of director Jane Campion) are best friends living in 1962 England. Throughout the course of the movie, they will grow up and grow apart – with Ginger’s father Roland (Alessandro Nivola) playing a key role for both.
Ginger gets involved with the Ban the Bomb movement. Disappointed that her mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks – doing a damn fine British accent of her own) is too conventional, she finds herself drifting more towards her father – who spent time in jail as a conscientious objector during WWII – when her parents separate. But Roland doesn’t seem to have all that much time for Ginger, so she really gets her political lessons for her godfathers – a gay couple both named Mark (Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt) and their American friend Bella (Annette Bening). Ginger becomes increasingly convinced that the world is on the brink of nuclear annihilation – although the movie suggests that in large part she is trying to cover up her own complicated feelings when it becomes clear that Roland and Rosa have interest in each other. Rosa is not political – she doesn’t seem much to care about the Ban the Bomb stuff. She has grown up without a father, which is naturally why she gravitates towards Roland – a wounded father figure that takes an interest in this 17 year old girl.
Several things disappointed me about Ginger & Rosa. For one, Rosa never really becomes a fully realized character. The film is clearly more interested in Ginger, and seems to think that simply by explaining that Rosa never knew her father, that explains why she is so drawn to Roland. It makes sense, but it’s also rather lazy. Also lazy is the film’s finale – we know that Ginger is one the verge of cracking up – worrying about the bomb, and trying to hold the secret of Roland and Rosa’s relationship inside her, it eventually all comes out – in a scene that has all the yelling, dramatic gestures and justifications we were expecting it to have.
That isn’t to say that Ginger & Rosa is a bad movie. Fanning is never less than convincing during the course of the movie, and her journey is well written by Potter as well. The film is sensitively directed, and captures the period details quite well. It’s just that all the characters in the film other than Ginger seem to be on autopilot – seem to exist just to forward Ginger’s story along, rather than being themselves. Ginger & Rosa is an average movie, with a great lead performance.