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Movie Review: Ginger & Rosa

March 22, 2013
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Ginger and Rosa is populated with the kind of people you dream of being as a teenager but come to hate once you get a job. That the movie portrays them so accurately is a credit; that it romanticizes them cannot be helped. The director, Sally Potter, may be drawing on nostalgic memory, as she is only four years younger than her protagonist, Ginger (Elle Fanning), grew up during the sixties, whose father was a poet, and whose background was steeped in atheism and anarchism.This probably isn’t totally autobiographical, but it has its parallels.

Ginger is born right in sync with the detonation of the first atomic bomb and her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert), both of which will become her young life’s pursuits. Fast-forward to 1962, where they’re skipping school, reading comics, hitchhiking, learning to smoke, and burdening their poor mothers. They experiment slightly with themselves, but the relationship is one-sided, with Ginger pining for Rosa, and Rosa setting her sights on Ginger’s dad, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a perpetually broke revolutionary. Ginger finds solace in taking a stand for nuclear disarmament, being that age when teens need to have control over something. She decides to become a poet. She falls for an outspoken organizer. She uses world issues to escape from her own life.

It’s a family trait, and one Potter nails. Ginger may look like her mother, but her personality is inherited from Roland: she shirks responsibility just like her father — even encouraging her parents’ separation — and leaves mom to live with dad. But patterning her life after her father exposes Ginger to the consequences: Roland’s carefree attitude extends so far as sleeping with Rosa with barely a wall separating him from Ginger. Her mother becomes a self-destructive wreck. Her band of protestors never cease talking as their goal recedes. The only family Ginger has are her godfathers Mark and Mark II (Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt) and their radical-feminist friend May Bell (Annette Bening).

The life and death imagery introduced in the beginning takes on further significance as symbols of the male and female, and of extreme independence and altruism. The destructive force of the atomic bomb mirrors Roland’s own destructive irresponsibility (let’s not forget he is named after a character who famously rampaged his way through two continents) and insistence on autonomy, while Natalie is the other extreme of life, caring for her family at the expense of everything else, including herself.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but Potter seems to be suggesting that these two forces need to be reconciled and synthesized — which makes sense as the three most admirable people in the film are the effeminate men and masculine woman.

Whatever Ginger & Rosa may be telling us, it’s a good watch. Potter has an excellent eye for every location from the country-fied middle-of-nowheres where the girls sneak cigarettes to the close confines and warm homes of the city. Fanning continues to prove herself a sturdy talent; Nivola does so well as to make you want to dislike the actor; and Hendricks may show herself to be the best performer outside of Mad Men — though certain features of hers can be a bit distracting at times (I don’t mean that as a joke either, there’s quite a few shots whose framing is actually disrupted by her curves). Bening goes from icy to warm seamlessly, and Platt and Spall are so charming that I’d be fine just watching them get on for two hours.

But Ginger & Rosa has its flaws. Even at 90 minutes, it feels long, and we already know where it’s going a ways before it gets there. There’s no surprises in the story nor anything besides the performances to elevate it beyond your usual teenage journey of self-discovery. Good as everyone is, watching them run around looking for an answer we already know they’ll find exhausts our patience — we get the message, now what else have you got?

Rating: 3.5/5

Ginger & Rosa is rated PG-13. Written and directed by Sally Potter. Starring Elle Fanning, Alessandro Nivola, Alice Englert, Annette Bening, Oliver Platt, Christina Hendricks, and Timothy Spall.

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