The basics of Ginger and Rosa make it sound like it could be fun: two teenage girls, Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) romp around 1960s London, skipping school, kissing boys, and discussing the current events of the time. Plus it has a sort of cutesy sounding title. But this is no American Dreams (yes, I’m still missing that show), or Mad Men, or whatever romantic vision of the 60s you might have. This is 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So, a coming of age story during the Cold War? That sounds interesting. But it doesn’t stop there. This movie also has a twisted, creepy dad and a defiant seventeen-year-old with father issues. Combine all of these features together and you’re far, far away from a playful trip to the 60s.
Not that that’s a problem. There was a lot going on in the 1960s and a lot of it was horrible and depressing. I’m just pointing out that Ginger and Rosa, directed by Sally Potter, really zeros in on that. This movie gets sad. And fast. Ginger’s father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), is immediately creepy. He’s a rebellious bohemian who only allows his daughter to refer to him by his first name, ’cause that won’t cause Freudian issues at all. Ginger’s best friend has been Rosa literally since they were born. Their mothers gave birth on the same day and became friends. The girls even dress themselves in matching outfits. Rosa also immediately seems more than a little off, eying Roland through the rear view mirror of his car only a couple scenes in. You can tell where this is going early on, but for me, interest was held by Elle Fanning’s performance as Ginger, the girl caught in the middle of it all.
Ginger is, to be blunt, losing her shit about the Cuban Missile Crisis and really just nuclear weapons in general for the entire movie. I didn’t have an issue with this; although the execution wasn’t quite right, the idea of this paralleling the stress in her immediate life was pretty smart. Elle is believable as a seventeen-year-old (impressive, since she’s only fourteen) who attends protests, questions religion, and tries to figure out the strained relationship she has with her parents. She refers to herself as a poet and write poems that are a little heavy handed in their I-have-issues-so-I-must-be-a-writer message. Elle takes what she has and runs with it though, bringing a lot of emotion, through her words, watery eyes, and little smirks, to a script that is sometimes shaky. Her best moment comes at the end of the film when, after being arrested for protesting nuclear weapons, she is hysterical and has trouble speaking to her mother, not out of fear for the future of the world, but because she is about to reveal a horrible secret about her father. And let me tell you, things get Dramatic (note the capital D) after that.
A lot of young actors have trouble transitioning from child to adult roles, but this is clearly not going to be a problem for Elle. Or should I say, it already isn’t a problem? The fact that it’s hard to distinguish a clear child-or-adult point where she lies in her career says it all. From this film, she’s clearly not a child actor. Yet, she’s only fourteen. The way she’s mixed up her roles is the reason behind this. She went from Sofia Coppola‘s Somewhere to We Bought a Zoo to Ginger and Rosa and next is going to play Princess Aurora in Disney’s Maleficent. She hasn’t taken the usual path of trying to draw a distinct line that says, “I’m an adult actor now.” Think, Selena Gomez, who seemingly went right from Wizards of Waverly Place to Spring Breakers. Or even Elle’s older sister, Dakota Fanning, who surprised everyone by suddenly playing Cherie Currie in The Runaways. This transition is something that actors older than Elle struggle with and she’s already got it handled.
All of the actors in Ginger and Rosa were good. I will point out that Christina Hendricks, who plays Ginger’s mother and who I absolutely love as Joan on Mad Men, had a very questionable British accent. (Some of the others, Elle included, may not have been perfect. I’m no expert.) In the end, I really thought Elle stole the show and kept me watching. I may not want to own a DVD of Ginger and Rosa, but I definitely would like to see more of Elle Fanning.
(Photos: The Film Stage)