Reviewed by Ian Forbes
Those handling the release of Ginger & Rosa made sure it qualified for last year’s awards’ season even though the wide release wouldn’t happen until now. Whether they figured 2012 was such a flat year it was their best change or simply couldn’t secure wider distribution, I never bothered to look up.
Frankly, I was excited opening up the mail last November and seeing that a film starring Elle Fanning was going to be amongst the mix of screeners under consideration. It’s almost unfair to say her star is on the rise because she’s been delivering top notch acting performances for so many years now, despite the occasional shadow of her older sister Dakota obscuring things.
And so, it was with great anticipation that I popped in the DVD and sat down to watch it. The story is a clash of the impending Cuban missile crisis and the fear it created (even in England) versus the sexual revolution sweeping the times. Written and directed by Sally Potter, Ginger (Fanning) and her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert) are on the cusp of womanhood. But whereas Rosa is content to let that mean a little teenage rebellion and dabbling in the discovery of sex, Ginger becomes obsessed with the possibility of nuclear war; and after Rosa begins an affair with Ginger’s dad (Alessandro Nivola), things spiral downward quickly.
The supporting roles are filled by excellent actors: Nivola, Timothy Spall, Christina Hendricks, Annette Benning, and Oliver Platt. Having their names in the cast list only bolstered my expectations. Englert, a relative unknown (even after Beautiful Creatures unfortunately), acquits herself quite well amidst the cast. Her future could be bright depending on the right influences and choices. If she’s smart, she’ll keep Elle’s number and see how she’s managed to navigate teen roles that carry such diversity and adult sensibilities.
That of course brings us to Fanning herself, who again proves that the family water should be tested for some sort of acting performance enhancers. She decently sports the British accent and for much of the movie holds back a dam full of emotion; the problem is what happens when it bursts. Out comes an overly showy crying fit from Fanning and a melodramatic set of proceedings amongst the group that almost feel like some sort of after school special. All of the actors at that point go over the top in the kind of manner you expect on stage, where they have to project out into a crowd – not in a film where every little movement is already magnified.
Worse still is that prior to the closing section of the movie, the movie as a whole was rather flat so it’s hard to say if staying the course would have made it much better anyway. There are a number of weighty topics on display but they all get muted and half-serviced because of Potter’s decision to make all of it about how sad and confusing these events are for Ginger. Rather than be so politically charged, why not fully develop a story about the disillusionment of a girl whose father espouses such great ideals but fails to live up to them? Or go the other route and make it about a scared girl who is certain her life is about to end under a mushroom cloud?
The end result is the waste of a great collection of actors and 90 minutes better spent paying your bills online. There are a few nice moments here and there but nothing so special as to warrant a trip out to the theater. At best, should the cast and the time period have you truly excited, this is something you can wait for the free movie channels to pick up. For me, Ginger & Rosa presented itself on my doorstep out of nowhere but I’d just as well have never known it existed. My worldview wouldn’t be any different for it.
Ginger & Rosa is rated PG-13 for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices – sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language.
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