Ginger & Rosa is a strange one. It's premise of a young girl and CND supporter troubled by her closest friend's betrayal and the possibility of nuclear destruction during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is one that instantly draws me in and yet I must admit to feeling somewhat detached and kept at arms length by the Sylvia Plath like mannered, middle class angst on display here, depicted by a group of Americans pretending to be British. This, combined with the early 60s set design and costumes and the jazz music on the soundtrack, slots Ginger & Rosa neatly into what I'd call the angst chic category.
Directed by Sally 'Orlando' Potter, Ginger & Rosa features a stunning performance from the young American actress Elle Fanning, playing Ginger. I believe she was just 13/14 at the time of the shoot, which makes her open, skillful portrayal here, complete with a more or less convincing English accent, all the more impressive. The other half of the titular duo, Rosa, is played by Australian actress, Alice Englert who is in fact Jane Campion's daughter and making her cinema debut here. The pair play firm friends who have been inseparable all their life, ever since their mothers (Christina Hendricks and Jodhi May) gave birth to them side by side in fact. But when Rosa starts to notice Ginger's caddish pacifist father played by Alessandro Nivola, (another American actor adopting an English accent) in a sexual way, the irrevocable fault lines start to show in both the girls friendship and Ginger's mental health, leading her to channel her hurt into campaigning for CND.
I worship Christina Hendricks, but though she looks as beautiful as always here (be still my beating cock) she isn't especially convincing in the role of a woman who sacrificed her talent for painting to bring up Ginger and dote upon and bake for Roland, her shit of a husband who genuinely seems to think fucking his daughter's best friend is somehow a protest against the petite bourgeoisie constraints society enforce upon us. Her accent doesn't convince either; falling into the same trap many US actors do when picked to play a Brit, she essentially delivers her dialogue in clipped, RP manner which occasionally veers dangerously close to Van Dyke territory (look out for a scene which she says 'boil an egg')
Ginger & Rosa is a rather short film, running at around 80 minutes, but still very little seems to happen in it. Indeed most of the action really occurs in the final 10 minutes lending it a suitably apt explosive climax for a film in which the threat posed by the Bomb looms large. It's a shame Potter didn't feel the need to open up some of the other characters to create something more interesting and even handed. Jodhi May is a great actress but reduced to walk on status here as Rosa's mother, whilst Rosa herself - a very interesting character - is barely explored, which is frustrating given her pivotal impact on the storyline and surely there would be some mileage in looking at just why she fell for Roland and what makes her tick? It's as if Potter simply found Ginger or Fanning's performance the only thing of real interest. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the message or central question that Potter poses to the audience; is Ginger's passionate idealism and radical protest a symptom of her emotional pain, of mental distress or is she in fact wholly sane and simply depressed because of the prospect of impending annihilation? Overall this is an intelligent teenage movie that largely just about sidesteps any accusations of precociousness or pretension though I feel I would have enjoyed it more were I actually a teenager myself.
I would love to have Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt as my gay godfathers though! But they have to leave Annette Bening at home - she was a bit annoying and overall superfluous to the proceedings.