Directed by: Sally Potter
Premise: British teenagers (Elle Fanning and Alice Englert) come of age during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
What Works: Ginger and Rosa is intended to explore the interior life of a young woman and the picture manages to be a compelling story about disillusionment. The story is set against the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and as the world faces the possibility of a nuclear war two British teenagers begin to ask broad questions about the meaning of life and their role in society. Movies about young people in the 1960s are nothing new but to their credit the filmmakers of Ginger and Rosa provide a slightly new perspective on the time period. That the film focuses on a young British woman is itself unique and the movie burrows into its lead character’s perspective, offering a different take on a familiar scenario. The struggles and obsessions of the characters capture the desperation of living under the threat of nuclear war but also the hope for a better world. The picture focuses on Ginger, played by Elle Fanning, as she begins to participate in anti-nuke demonstrations and observes the unraveling of her parent’s marriage. The story smartly ties the worldly political news with local events in the girl’s life in such a way that it appears to her that everything is collapsing. The family relationship in Ginger and Rosa is complicated but in a way that is beneficial to the film. The movie is partly about the role of women in society and it channels second wave feminism in a subtle way. Ginger’s mother (Christina Hendricks) exists somewhere between traditional domesticity and more liberated womanhood and that causes tension with her daughter. The relationship between Ginger and her father (Alessandro Nivola) is even more complicated. Early in the film she worships her father but as Ginger and Rosa begin to mature the father comes between them in ways that are unnerving. In the characterization of the father, Ginger and Rosa is able to further complicate its regard for social activism. The father is an academic who speaks a good game of progressivism and antiauthoritarianism but he is revealed to be corrupt and using philosophy as a shield for otherwise despicable behavior. The performances of Ginger and Rosa are also worth mentioning. Most of the lead roles are played by American actors and they all do British accents convincingly. Elle Fanning is especially good here, and the role requires a lot of nuance with moments of heavy drama.
What Doesn’t: Ginger and Rosa is a ninety minute film but it plays as though it were cut down from a much longer story and quite frequently the filmmakers do not make good use of screen time. Subplots and character arcs are often incomplete and many scenes set up characters or relationships but they do not lead to anything meaningful. The picture also comes up short with its central characters. Ironically, Ginger and Rosa has too little in it about Ginger and Rosa. The relationship between the two girls needs more substance to it. The story fails to establish their friendship in a meaningful way and it lacks the kind of decisive story and character beats that would give the fracturing of their relationship heavier dramatic impact. Rosa in particular, played by Alice Englert, is underwritten. Englert is a promising actress but the story does not give her much to do. The storytelling failures of the opening really come to bear in the ending. The movie is incomplete and the filmmakers seem confused about where all of this is leading. The picture gets silly when it goes for domestic drama and the finale is narratively and tonally inconsistent with the rest of the picture.
Bottom Line: Ginger and Rosa is undermined by storytelling missteps but those mistakes are offset by its complex characters and interesting thematic material. This is the kind of movie that academics and critics like to faun over and what the filmmakers do right outweighs the things they do wrong.
Episode: #436 (April 28, 2013)