“Ginger & Rosa” is a wisp of a movie. It never feels fully formed and most of the characters are merely sketches of human beings. Yet it still manages to resonate thanks to the performance of an actress who has yet to reach her 15th birthday.
Elle Fanning (the younger sister of Dakota) stars as Ginger, a precocious British teenager who comes of age during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s.
Ginger is the daughter of hipsters and like most teenage girls, she idolizes her charming-yet-insufferable father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a professor who was once jailed for being a conscientious objector during World War II.
Also like most teenage girls, Ginger has little time for her mother, Natalie (Christina Hendricks), whom she finds to be overbearing and restrictive.
When we first meet Ginger she’s practically girlish as she dreams of being a poet and pals around with her troubled best friend, Rosa (Alice Englert). The two spend their days ironing each other’s hair, hitchhiking to the beach, learning to smoke cigarettes, making out with boys, and generally playing at being adults.
But something ominous is building both at home and in the wider world. Just as the Russians are moving nuclear missiles into Cuba, Natalie boots out Roland after one too many dalliances with blonde coeds.
Ginger sides with her father, but finds more support among her parents’ friends (played by Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt, and Annette Benning) than she does at either parent’s home.
Ginger joins a “ban the bomb” protest group and marches in the streets, but she can’t escape an overwhelming sense of helplessness that is only compounded when her father takes an unhealthy interest in Rosa.
“Ginger & Rosa” was written and directed by Sally Potter, who has a keen eye for detail and seems more interested in creating emotional vignettes than a larger, cohesive story.
This is probably why the movie feels so slight in spite of the fact that it is a highly effective and expertly made film.
More than anything, though, what you take away from this movie is the realization that Elle Fanning is going to be a star.
Her highest-profile turn to date was being adorable in “Super 8,” but that was child’s play compared to what she does here.
By astoundingly playing a character a few years older than herself who is forced to endure a cruelly premature shove into adulthood, Fanning takes Ginger from a giggling schoolgirl to a worldly-wise woman over the course of 90 short minutes.
Coming-of-age movies are a dime a dozen and we’ve seen variations on this theme time and time again. But what Fanning does as well as anyone ever has is wear that change on her face; by the end of the movie, her eyes carry all the wonder, heartbreak, and disillusionment that comes from leaving childhood behind.
I suppose the biggest testament to Fanning’s performance is that I still liked Ginger when the movie was over. Ginger’s teen angst could have easily become mopey or self-righteous, but Fanning stays true to the heart of her character even as her world is crumbling around her.
“Ginger & Rosa” is a good movie that is somehow both hauntingly beautiful and inconsequential; sort of like a sunset or a lunch date with Tilda Swinton.
In the long run, it is going to be much more exciting to watch Fanning’s career unfold because she certainly has the talent to be a Hollywood fixture for years to come.
“Ginger & Rosa” is rated PG-13 for mature, disturbing, thematic material involving teen choices – sexuality, drinking, smoking — and for language.