Film Review: ‘Ginger & Rosa’

Alice Englert and Elle Fanning play besties in the '60s in "Ginger & Rosa," out today. CREDIT: Nicola Dove
Alice Englert and Elle Fanning play besties in the ’60s in “Ginger & Rosa”
CREDIT: Nicola Dove

‘Ginger & Rosa’
Director: Sally Potter
Stars: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

Not every coming-of-age saga opens with footage of Hiroshima being nuked. But not every coming-of-age saga is directed by Sally Potter. The English filmmaker is bold, which she sometimes translates as not being afraid to appear pretentious or annoying. Her biggest hit, 1992’s “Orlando,” dared tackle Virginia Woolf, dragging the purely literary into the film medium with a swagger, plus the perfect ageless androgyne (Tilda Swinton, natch). 2004’s affair saga “Yes” forced its actors (Joan Allen among them) to speak in iambic pentameter. Starting a film with a mushroom cloud is, for Potter, de rigueur — yet it’s by far the craziest, boldest thing in a film not always easy to ID as the latest from an iconoclast.

The talented former child star Elle Fanning continues her seamless transition into slightly older roles as Ginger, a bookish, red-maned 13 year old who’s besties with the more free-spirited Rosa, played by Jane Campion’s daughter, Alice Englert. It’s 1962 London and Ginger, born (like Potter) in the wake of WWII, has never learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. As Rosa finds other distractions — including Ginger’s intransigently bohemian father (Alessandro Nivola) — Ginger latches onto the looming threat of nuclear war, turning into a nascent radical who serially quotes Bertrand Russell.

Ginger and Rosa share the title, but the film might as well just be called “Ginger.” Though it initially appears to be the latest in a long run of films on adolescent female friendship, Rosa mostly gets the short straw, disappearing into the sprawling supporting cast as Ginger’s bomb woes become more febrile. What seems to be a fleeting concern, not shared by her mom (Christina Hendricks) nor even her revolutionary adult friends (including Timothy Spall and Annette Benning), starts to consume her life. Hysterical freak-out sessions ensue and a descent into madness begins.

Potter doesn’t quite go right along into the brink with her, which is a touch shocking: if any subject would seem to inspire a hooky, if questionable, Potter gimmick it would seem to be the emotions of teenagers, particularly ones living in the wake of a potential apocalypse. But she holds back, relying on short scenes, period details and her excellent actors. This is the most accessible, least divisive film she’s yet made — and yet let down your guard and it still has the capacity to surprise you, as it does with its beautifully abrupt capper. It begins like the Potter of old and ends like her, too.


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