‘Ginger & Rosa’
Rated PG-13 for some profanity and mature themes involving teen drinking, smoking and sexuality.
London, 1962. Two teenage girls - Ginger and Rosa - are inseparable; they play truant together, discuss religion, politics and hairstyles, and dream of lives ...
Rating: PG-13 for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices - sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language
Length: 89 minutes
Released: March 15, 2013 Limited
Cast: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Annette Bening
Director: Sally Potter
Writer: Sally Potter
Nuclear anxiety becomes a distraction from teenage pressures and a projection of potentially explosive emotional distress in “Ginger & Rosa,” a beautifully acted character drama set in 1962 England.
Although the title suggests the seventh feature film in 30 years from distinctive writer-director Sally Potter will focus on a friendship, the movie in fact belongs to Ginger, whose flaming red hair is one of the glories of Robbie Ryan’s cinematography; it’s also an evocation of the adolescent fires that burn within and the atomic holocaust that threatens from without.
The movie opens with stock footage of a mushroom cloud, followed by images of the devastated Hiroshima. Ginger was born the year the bomb dropped; some 17 years later, her bedtime radio listening includes BBC estimates of the millions who would be killed in a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. No wonder a beaker all but bursts when Ginger approaches it in the school science lab: She and the world she inhabits are combustible.
Ginger is played by Elle Fanning (sister of Dakota), a remarkable young actress with the poise of a veteran and instincts we hope will not be blunted by experience. As a challenging showcase for Fanning, “Ginger & Rosa” might be a companion piece to Sofia Coppola’s wonderful “Somewhere,” in which Fanning played what marketers label a “tweenager.” Here, she’s essentially a young woman, although it takes her bold black-tressed Italianate best friend, Rosa (Alice Englert) — another bomb-day baby — to introduce her to cigarettes, hitchhiking and snogging in back alleys with strange boys.
Even in this sort of lower-class British environment, the pop culture, styles and artifacts of the “Mad Men” era bewitch. Here, the connection is made explicit by the casting of the formidable Christina Hendricks — Joan on the AMC series — as Ginger’s misused mother. Alessandro Nivola, meanwhile, is Ginger’s indulgent father, who insists that his daughter and her best friend call him not “Father” or “Mister” but Roland, even if he bears little resemblance to his namesake, the legendary medieval war hero. This Roland is a conscientious objector, armored in a bohemian turtleneck; he’s a lover of jazz and Schubert and younger women whose convenient “guiding principles” allow him to make a mess of everyone’s life as a protest against “mindless obedience.” It’s to Potter’s credit that Roland isn’t really villainized, even if he’s the least sympathetic member of a supporting cast that includes Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt and Annette Bening (cast as a feminist activist).
Known for less conventional films (“Orlando,” from the book by Virginia Woolf, was about a transsexual immortal, while “Yes” was scripted in iambic pentameter), Potter is quite sly here. “Ginger & Rosa” seems a fairly straightforward coming-of-age story, yet it’s deceptive; because we feel we’ve seen inherently nostalgic period pieces with “Ban the Bomb” rallies and glowing vinyl-record jukeboxes before, we’re not quite prepared for the impact of the emotional confrontations that pile up in the closing act. “How could anyone be happy when you know about the bomb?” Ginger asks. Her despair is no less real for being the expression of a romantic, depressed adolescent, and it’s no less relevant today, even if “the bomb” has been replaced by “terrorism” as our chief anxiety.
“Ginger & Rosa” is at the Malco Ridgeway Four.