Friday, July 26, 2013

FI: Ginger & Rosa

Ginger & Rosa
UK/Denmark/Croatia/Canada. 2012
Written and Directed by Sally Potter

We've all seen many stories from and about Cold War America. From the Eisenhower 50's to the brinkmanship of Kennedy's 60's, this period has long been a breeding ground for stories here in the US. But I can't think of very many British films that deal with coming of age in that period, and certainly few recent ones. Ginger & Rosa, by Orlando's Sally Potter, deals with the lives of its titular teens as they react to the changing world around them and react against their broken home lives and parents. Aside from anything else I could say about the film, it's refreshing to see a story set in this era and seen almost fully from the perspective of a realistically-drawn teenage girl.

Ginger (the wholly-remarkable Elle Fanning, adopting a convincing English accent) and Rosa (Alice Englert) were born at the same time, in the same hospital room in 1945, just after the atomic bomb leveled Hiroshima. They grow up the very best of friends, basically two sides of the same coin (with all of the Freudian duality that entails), and are inseparable by the time we rejoin them in 1962. Ginger is the more cautious, intellectual, sensitive, one, while Rosa (whose father left, never to return, some years earlier) is more daring and worldly. Ginger's mother Nat (Mad Men's Christina Hendricks, whose accent is less convincing) and father Roland (Alessandro Nivola) play at having a happy home life, though Roland's pretentious non-conformism (he makes Ginger call him Roland, rejecting Dad as too "bourgeois") leads to infidelity and strife. All the while, the burgeoning Swinging Sixties and the constant fear of nuclear annihilation lead the girls down philosophical rabbit holes and push them along slowly-separating paths.

As I mentioned, Fanning is the star here, and her Ginger dominates screen time more than the less-featured (though still fine) Englert's Rosa. Fanning is such a natural, believable, magnetic screen presence that she lifts the whole endeavor through sheer dynamism. Unfortunately, the film itself often lets her down. Potter sets an elliptical, impressionistic tone, which works well for the most part, but while the imagery and period details are striking and well-handled, Ginger & Rosa gets bogged down a bit in repetition and story vagueness. Some of the emotional beats, especially the film's concluding scenes, are suitably powerful, but the script is untidy at best. Dramatic events spring up seemingly out of the blue, while there are whole characters (particularly the trio of Annette Bening, Timothy Spall, and Oliver Platt) whose presence is almost unexplained, something hard to forgive in a film with such a brisk running time. The film's psychosexual themes, its balanced take on the pros and cons of "traditional" family and exploration of the thankless lives of women trapped therein, come through in the pinch, but I very much wanted to feel more connected to the story than the script allows. Still, given Fanning's star turn and the rarity of coming-of-age tales depicting realistic, strongly-characterized young women, Ginger & Rosa's merits aren't entirely overwhelmed by its flaws.

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