It may be called Ginger & Rosa, but it is Elle Fannings’s movie. She plays Ginger, a 16-year-old in London in 1962 whose entire world is in a precarious position for a whole slew of reasons. Her family is coming apart. She is more and more concerned about the threat of nuclear war. And she is at that point in adolescence where the weight of everything just seems too much to bear. She has always been able to talk to her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert) about anything, but now that she is more interested in protesting for disarmament, all Rosa can think about is true love, and the two who have been best friends since birth begin to drift apart.
Ginger’s dad Roland (Alessandro Nivola) is an intellectual idealist who she idolizes. Her mom Natalie (Christina Hendricks) was once a painter, but has become a sad housewife, a future that Ginger cannot bear to imagine for herself. And it all becomes even worse when Roland moves out. Ginger follows him to his very bohemian bachelor pad. But dear old dad, the non-conformist, has always had a thing for his students and younger girls, and on an outing on his sailboat it becomes clear that something is brewing between him and Rosa. Ginger is taken up with Ban the Bomb rallies and worrying about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and she sees what is going on with Roland and her BFF, but is powerless to stop it. The affair is really uncomfortable to watch as a viewer, and for Ginger it is clearly excruciating. It isn’t really pervy, but more like in the film An Education. (What do the Brits have about these high school girl affairs with older men?)
Elle Fanning is really amazing as this teenager who has such enormous concerns to deal with. (She was only 13 when this was shot.) The role is complex and the range of emotions she is able to display with subtlety and strength is really breathtaking. She has a great future ahead of her if this is any indication of her talent. And she was fortunate to have a fabulous ensemble cast to collaborate with her. In addition to her parents and her best friend, there are several scenes with a gay couple (Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall) and their poet pal (Annette Benning) who are family friends that Ginger goes to for advice. But ultimately this is Ginger’s story, and her coming of age, and it is beautifully written and directed by Sally Potter (Orlando), who has a clear connection to the story having lived the anti-nuclear activist life as a child in London. But what is powerful about the film is that it is one particular scary era seen through the eyes of a girl with all the other complications of adolescence intertwined. It is a chick flick in that we can understand the nature of adolescent girls yearning for purpose and love, and not necessarily being able to articulate feelings of betrayal. (Oh, that we learn later in life!) I think it would make a great chick outing, with drinks and discussion time afterwards. Or maybe drinks and a No Nukes rally. Okay, just drinks.