Ginger & Rosa (A24, PG-13)

film ginger-rosa_75The great gift of Ginger & Rosa is the director’s willingness to let her camera observe these gifted young actresses without judgment.

 

 

film ginger-rosa_500

Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert), the title characters of Sally Potter’s new feature film, were born almost simultaneously, in side-by-side beds in the same London maternity hospital. As the year was 1945, they were also born under the metaphorical cloud of the atomic age. Both historical factors have shaped their lives. Fast-forward to 1962 and they’re best of friends in a London that, like the milieu of Lone Scherfig’s 2009 An Education, is still in a grim, post-war mood and has not yet begun to swing. Ginger and Rosa’s world is all browns and grays and dampness, and both are aware that they are living under the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Ginger and Rosa are typical teenagers in the sense that they’re busy trying on different aspects of adult roles: practicing kissing or smoking cigarettes one minute, and then going off to an anti-nuclear rally or, to the horror of Ginger’s bourgeois-lefty dad Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a church service. Ginger is the more intellectual of the two, writing poetry, listening to jazz, and citing Simone de Beauvoir as a counter-example when Rosa reads aloud from a magazine (while both girls are in a bathtub, shrinking their jeans) that the most important thing for a girl is to have a bubbly personality. Rosa is less intellectual but far more advanced when it comes to being aware of her sexuality and her attractiveness to older men, even if she’s too young to know how to control that sexuality and protect herself.

Ginger and Rosa share one typical teenage quality: Both are terrible know-it-alls, with nothing but contempt for their mothers—Ginger because her mom (Christina Hendricks) gave up being an artist and appears to do nothing at all, Rosa because her single mother (Jodhi May) works as a cleaner. Like most kids, neither girls have any idea of the amount of work and money it takes to keep a household running, nor of the kind of everyday bargains most adults are forced to enter into just to make a life that works at all.

Ginger is still in school, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much for her, a fact that increases the aimlessness of her intellectual strivings. She’s also better supplied in terms of alternative adult influences, which include an intellectual activist (Annette Bening) and a charming gay couple (Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt), but still, both girls are still left somewhat adrift at a very vulnerable age.

The great gift of Ginger & Rosa is Potter’s willingness to let her camera observe these gifted young actresses without judgment, and to create the illusion of ordinary life unfolding before your eyes. The lives led by these two young women is miles away from those lived by the teenagers in most American movies, and for that reason alone, it’s more than worth your time. Ginger and Rosa may be more young and foolish than they imagine, but it’s the adults (one in particular, actually) who really know how to do wrong, and yet still attempt to claim the moral high ground. The only false note comes from a forced confrontation near the end of the film, but I’m willing to forgive Potter that moment because the rest of Ginger & Rosa is so good. | Sarah Boslaugh

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