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Ginger & Rosa
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by Jay Seaver

"The end of the world isn't the scariest thing in 1962."
4 stars

Sally Potter has spent her career making movies that ranged from the experimental to the eccentric and back again, but "Ginger & Rosa" is not one of them; it's a coming-of-age story with settings and certain details reminiscent of her own formative years. Not exactly an uncommon thing, but it's not always done this well, and certainly not always so blessed in terms of the performance by its young lead actress.

The two title characters were born at the same moment during the final days of World War II - Ginger (Elle Fanning) to former painter Natalie (Christina Hendricks) and academic Roland (Alessandro Nivola); Rosa (Alice Englert) to working-class Anoushka (Jodhi May) and a man who leaves well before 1962, when the girls are sixteen or seventeen. Ginger is becoming quite aware and frightened of the possibility of nuclear annihilation even as her parents' marriage is falling apart, while Rosa's attention is mostly focused on boys, though she'll be looking to move on to men soon enough.

The Cold War era is maybe not uniquely suited to this sort of story - I'm sure that kids who reached their teens near the start of the millennium will have apt terrorism metaphors for their tortured adolescence. It can actually seem kind of quaint for the next generation, but in a way, that's what makes paralleling that sort of real-world event work; the world does not actually end, although there's no way for a teenager to know that. The potential for an apocalypse on a personal level, at least, is never in doubt.

We can see this because Elle Fanning is rather terrific. Only thirteen when she took the role, she nevertheless manages a decent accent and the right balance of maturity and volatility; she's especially great at trying to hold back obvious hurt because she doesn't want to look immature or conventional in front of the adults who seem so proud of her intelligence. Alice Englert isn't quite the co-star that the title would imply, but she echoes Fanning enough to give the characters' friendship a basis beyond their shared birthdate, but has a groundedness that sets her apart. There's a natural camaraderie between them during the movie's somewhat aimless early sections that lays a foundation where the audience won't really consider splitting them apart no matter what strife events create.

The adult cast is impressive as well. Christina Hendricks's accent is a bit questionable (or, at least, incongruous, as I don't think she's ever varied it much before), but she captures how this sort of mother can be overbearing and judgmental, but that's in part because she's had idealism and free-spiritedness buried. Obviously, a father like Roland seems appealing, and Alessandro Nivola is able to get across the charm that seems amazing to his students and younger girls, while also showing how his dedication to free thought can make him a sort of monster, and just as manipulative as those he decries. Timothy Spall shows up as Ginger's godfather Mark, a friend of the family who serves as a stabilizing influence, whether through quiet support or forcefully laying the situation out for all to see. Oliver Platt and Annette Bening are almost gratuitous as American friends of Mark's, well-meaning but incomplete role models.

Sally Potter is not particularly subtle; she starts the movie with an atomic explosion, after all, and there's no way to smoothly weave the radio news broadcasts that form the basis of Ginger's external fears. There's moments like Rosa very distinctly moving from next to a reading Ginger to making out with a boy, or how (from Ginger's point of view) Natalie's life suddenly seems cleaner and brighter at a certain point. She uses a lot of confined spaces, especially when the girls are encountering the adult world (wide-open ones when they're on their own early on), and makes Ginger's poetry that of a beginner but not pointedly bad>. For all that she's showing her hand as the movie goes on, the last act is especially impressive as it puts more and more weight onto Ginger until it becomes too much to bear, although as the inevitable collapse reaches a crescendo, it transforms, creating a somewhat surprising final sustained note.

As it should; as vulnerable as teenagers can be, it's their ability to grow stronger if given the chance that is perhaps their most important characteristic. Potter and company - especially Fanning - show that quite well; as much as "Ginger & Rosa" may seem familiar at the start, it builds and matures into something fairly special.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24100&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/19/13 23:50:41
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  15-Mar-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 23-Jul-2013


  DVD: 23-Jul-2013

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