10 April 2013 | howard.schumann
A commanding performance by Elle Fanning as a teenager struggling to make sense of the adult world in a turbulent period of history is thwarted by a weak script in Sally Potter's Ginger and Rosa. Set in London, England in 1962, the threat of a devastating nuclear war resulting from the Cuban Missile Crisis hangs heavily in the atmosphere, underscored by the film's opening frame depicting the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, Japan in August, 1945. Ginger and Rosa (Alice Englert) are best friends who were born in the same hospital at the same time on the exact day of the dropping of the bomb. As children, the two are inseparable, though each has their own personality.
Both rebels in the making, the red-haired Ginger has dreams of becoming a poet. She is the more outgoing of the two and has an independent streak, while Rosa, though also wild, is more introspective. They take a bath together to straighten their jeans, skip school to go the beach, hang out with boys, and take risks by jumping into cars with strangers. Ginger's mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks) and her "free-spirited" husband Rowand (Alessandro Nivoa, a Bruce Springsteen look-alike) are not so accepting of Ginger's close friendship with Rosa, however, especially when she comes home at 2 a.m., but she has support from her godfathers (Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt) as well as from Bella, a politically aware American friend played by Annette Bening.
Ginger's parents are having marital difficulties, mostly because of Rowand's womanizing and the growing dysfunction of her family, together with the threatening world situation, adds stress and uncertainty to her life at a very vulnerable age. Though her father prides himself on being a non-conformist and a pacifist who went to prison rather than fight in the last war, he comes across as self-righteous and, though Ginger adores him, his declarative interactions with her become irritating, especially when his "enlightened" perspective becomes a cover for irresponsible behavior.
Although they still have much in common, especially their disdain for their mothers, Ginger and Rosa take different paths as they grow into adolescence. Caught up in the nuclear hysteria, Ginger becomes increasingly fearful about her future and takes part in protest rallies, while Rosa is drawn more to the church and relationships with boys. Ginger's involvement with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament on one occasion, lands her in jail where she has to be bailed out by her godparents. Unfortunately, perhaps contrary to the director's intentions, Ginger's protests against the bomb come across more as an attempt to sublimate her anger at her parents than as a quest for a better world.
After a confrontation with her mother, Ginger moves into her father's small apartment but quickly becomes disillusioned when she learns that Rosa has becomes involved in an affair with Rowand. Her father's inappropriate relationship with her best friend becomes the catalyst for Ginger's growing alienation, leading to a dramatic emotional confrontation with her family. Though Ginger and Rosa is an intense and intimate film, it tends to indulge in stereotyping and its often heavy-handed plotting leaves little room for subtlety or nuance. It is recommended, however, mostly for Elle Fanning's performance which is remarkable for one who was thirteen years old at the time of filming.