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Ginger & Rosa - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Ginger & Rosa
Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+

Ginger and Rosa seem to live in a world where everyone is soft-spoken. With the exception of the emotionally explosive climax, this entire movie consists of people who still speak clearly, but only just above a whisper. If I could find any real criticism here, it would be that: it doesn't really feel like a reflection of the real world when everyone has basically the same manner of speaking. Did writer-director Sally Potter tell them all to talk this way? If she was going for consistency of moodiness, it worked.

There's clearly more to it, though. Someone's doing something right if you can forget you're looking at Elle Fanning or Annette Bening -- the latter is all but recognizable as the radical feminist acquaintance of a family friend. In Fanning's case, as Ginger, her hair is dyed red and she speaks with a very impressive British accent. So does Christina Hendricks, for that matter, as her repressed mother, Natalie.

The film opens at the births of Ginger and Rosa (a luminescent Alice Englert). We never see much of Rosa's mother, but it's clear from the start that the two mothers are best friends. They each give birth on the same night; we see them look across to each other from beds next to each other in the hospital, in 1945 -- a relevant year because it's when the atom bomb was dropped on Japan. Ginger and Rosa, in turn, grow up best friends.

Now the two girls are about 17, and it's the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Fanning, who was born in 1998, would have been at most fourteen when shooting, yet she's utterly convincing -- the best performer in the movie. Given Rosa's developing obsession with potential nuclear annihilation, the timing for the movie makes sense. One might wonder why it needed to be set in England, until being reminded that, unlike the U.S., England spent much of World War II -- in 1962 still very much a fresh memory -- bombarded by bombs. The scars are deeper, and serve as a more effective backdrop for Ginger's turmoil.

Because to be sure, things get weird. Ginger's dad, who insists Ginger call him "Roland" (Alessandro Nivola), fancies himself a free thinker who stands up against blind obedience. He went to prison during the war for being a conscientious objector. He and Natalie have many separations. Rosa, deceptively manipulative, falls for Roland. Roland does not resist. This isn't technically incestuous but it might as well be.

Several family friends are played by pretty big name actors. Timothy Spall is Mark, fey enough to make you assume he's gay. Oliver Platt is credited as "Mark Two," Mark's partner maybe? I never quite figured out the relationships there. Bening is Bella, either Mark Two's wife or just a good friend. Maybe his beard? Beyond the lack of clarity of their relationships, they are all well-rounded characters who serve as positive roll models Ginger doesn't even realize she's got. She's too busy unfairly resenting her mother, largely at the misguided influence of Rosa -- who is far more rebellious.

Ginger & Rosa is the kind of movie that is tailor made for people who go for obscure indie movies. To its credit, it's never overwrought or obtuse. It has a strange aesthetic that is by turns hypnotic and discomfiting. I suppose some might consider thinking of nuclear holocaust as a metaphor for Ginger's insecurities is a little overwrought. I didn't take it that way. It seems natural that Ginger should feel motivated to get involved in protests against the bomb. It's difficult for anyone under 40 to really imagine what living under such a real, imminent threat was like.

Still, if you're not the indie-movie type, this one is best avoided. I can see it testing some people's patience. But it worked quite nicely for me.

Elle Fanning and Alice Englert's friendship is threatened by nuclear annihilation in GINGER & ROSA.

Overall: B+
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