By Laurie Coker
Some films simply make us feel and connect us wholly to the characters. With exceptional lead actresses like Ella Fanning (Dakota’s younger sister) and Alice Englert and an equally impressive supporting cast, Ginger and Rosa, a coming of age film set in England during the 1960s, engages while it entertains. Director/writer Sally Potter doesn’t offer a perfect film, but she takes us on a journey of self-discovery and personal experiences and does so with beautiful imagery and subtle albeit predictable storytelling.
Ginger (Fanning) and Rosa (Englert) are inseparable best friends. They do everything together – stories of boys, cigarettes, and full on teenage angst. Potter opens her film with scenes of the bombing of Hiroshima and the births of Rosa and Ginger and then bounds forward to the two friends, so connected and yet, quite different. Both are beautiful girls – Ginger with flaming red hair and Rosa a striking brunette. The film leads us not through their lives, but shift almost wholly to Ginger, the more mature of the pair and the least sexually curious. While we get Ginger’s perspective, Rosa is there. When Ginger’s dad invites the girls on his boat, Rosa gives him the eye and he reacts, much to Ginger’s horror. As this illicit relationship develops, the story darkens. Soon, pills are popped, pregnancies are being reported, jail is threatened, and one family falls apart; all set to the backdrop of political struggle – something that captivates Ginger.
Fanning truly captivates as Ginger, her face capturing each mood, reaction and taste to perfection. It is she that holds the movie together when it lumbers in its melodrama. She is as natural to acting as a fish is to swimming and we are lucky for it. Fanning has talent that other actors her ages can only hope for. Potter asks a great deal from Fanning and her costar and they obviously accept the challenge and rise to it. It is with full uninhibited passion that they depict their characters and because of them the ride is all the more appealing and fascinating.
The film which also stars Annette Bening, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Timothy Spalling, Oliver Platt and Johdi, shows the chaos that comes from growing up to fast. There’s strength in the supporting cast. Nivola is perfect, as a man who manages to rationalize hurting other people, feels only a little bad about it, and still but won’t stop. Bening, as always, pleases, but has little screen time as a blunt American poet who slices through all the British repression, allowing Ginger to final come to terms with what goes and to finally speak out.
Even as it flounders in its heavy-handedness, because Potter is good and her young leads are even better, the audience can’t help but become engaged. Although muddle by melodrama Ginger and Rosa is real life dissected. Fanning is so pure in her performance it is difficult to separate the character from the star and that is impressive. Potter captures the time period and Fanning captures our heart. From me the film earns a B in grade book.