Director: Sally Potter
Starring: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Annette Bening, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt
Written by Sally Potter
Running Time: 90 mins
Release date: 19th October 2012
Sally Potter is one of this country’s most interesting directors, not known for her formula narrative structure, instead challenging the viewer with films like Orlando, The Tango Lesson and Yes. So Ginger & Rosa comes as a huge surprise. A straight-forward coming-of-age drama that follows the norm. It also includes a stunning performance from Elle Fanning.
Ginger and Rosa are best friends, completely inseparable since childhood. It’s 1962 and the teenage girls are starting to find their voices. Ginger is a quiet, nervous girl who is more a follower than a leader while Rosa is much stronger, willing to take risks and not afraid of her sexuality. Ginger, living with her mother, Natalie, and her father, Roland, sees her parents on the verge of breaking up and is fearful of the growing problems during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The girls join CND but it’s Ginger who is desperate to make a difference as she fears death. While coping with the growing paranoia, she is also slowly being pulled apart from her best friend, when Rosa starts falling for her father.
For a single 90 minutes movie, there’s enough story to make two films, that of the girl coping with her own teenage angst and that of a girl scared of nuclear war. Potter manages to weave the two together magnificently, capturing, at the same time, the moods and textures of the period. With a very jazzy soundtrack, quietly understated costuming and drab, simple settings, it evokes that time not long after the war when Britain was still trying to find an identity.
The small details about growing up in that period is interesting: jeans worn in the bath to shrink them, the cafes, empty streets where cars aren’t bumper to bumper and the music, crashing rock ‘n’ roll with the smoothness of jazz.
The film does suffer from a leisurely pace. Moments of silence seem to go on forever and, at times, it does test the patience. having said that, Potter doesn’t need to rush. She wants us to feel the pain of a girl in transition, as the film focuses more on Ginger than her more confident friend. This allows Elle Fanning to give an absolutely stunning performance as the troubled girl.
As Ginger, Fanning brings out the pain and confusion in her life; the fear of dying and of the rising conflict thousands of miles away, of her mixed emotions about her parents separation, not knowing where her alliances lie. It’s a beautifully tuned performance that has all the emotions etched across her face. Ably supported by Alice Englert as best friend, Rosa, she is given the less challenging role, although her tough exterior is a facade when she faces a moral dilemma.
The adult performances are very strong, I do find it strange that Potter should cast Americans in British roles. Christina Hendricks is believable as Natalie, although some of her pronunciations of English words like “eggs” is a little odd. Alessandro Nivola, as Roland, comes across as the perfect father yet his dark secret makes him a troublesome character. More lighter fare come in the form of Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt as Ginger’s godparents Mark and Mark 2.
This is a flawed project yet it’s certainly Potter’s most assessable film to date. Some will find the pacing hard to contend with but once you have got over the fact that this isn’t a fast cutting, snappy piece, they will get a satisfying small drama of a girl coping with, well, life. It’s all the more worthy to see a young actress like Elle Fanning, taking on such a huge role and delivering a performance that most adult actors would dream of creating.