ginger and rosa

Ginger & Rosa is completely average, though not in the usual “everything about this is neither great nor bad” kind of way. Rather, some terrific elements are counterbalanced by some truly bad ones. It doesn’t transcend any of the immediate thoughts that will most likely spring to mind when hearing the phrase “coming-of-age tale,” despite making a stab at originality.

Ginger and Rosa (Elle Fanning and Alice Englert) are an inseparable pair, friends since birth, navigating teenage rebellion in early 1960’s London. They cut classes, hitchhike to the country, and attend revolutionary meetings together. But their bond begins to waver as they begin to realize their differing priorities in life. Ginger is overwhelmed by the idea of impending nuclear annihilation, and wants to dive full-on into activism. Rosa is more concerned with love, and feels that she’s forged a special connection with Ginger’s father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), recently separated from Ginger’s mother, Natalie (Christina Hendricks). As the Cuban Missile Crisis looms, everything comes to a head for the two girls and their families.

Despite the title, this story is really all about Ginger. Her and Rosa’s supposedly amazing friendship is more informed than expressed, and never inspires much investment in what happens between the two of them. Rosa is mostly a cipher, beyond her trait of blind romanticism. There are never any scenes from her perspective – everything that happens is filtered through Ginger.

Consequently, it falls on Fanning to carry the film. She shoulders the burden ably, embodying the chaotic twinning of teenage conviction and confusion. Ginger is believably dedicated to the cause of peace, but it’s the disintegration of her personal life that plagues her worse than the possible end of the world. The one original twist here on the bildungsroman (original, that is, so far as I know) is the use of the bomb as a metaphor for the end of childhood. Still, there are other movies, like this year’s Something in the Air, that better use a period background of social upheaval to explore youth.

The visuals write a check that the writing can’t cash. The best moments are the very first, as the movie kicks off with an atomic explosion, and then establishes both Ginger and Rosa’s backgrounds and relationship in an extremely brief montage that communicates a wealth of information effectively and efficiently. There are many lovely images to follow, such as a sunset-lit trip to the hills or a stark night on a protest march.

My favorite thing in the film, besides Fanning and the great photography, was Nivola. Roland is exquisitely unlikable, playing an almost-parody of the leftist faux-intellectual. He consistently wrecks everyone around him, absolving himself of guilt by claiming to be simply transcending traditional morality. Actually, Ginger & Roland would serve as a better title, since Ginger’s arc pivots around her relationship with him far more than the one between her and Rosa. He possibly has even more screen time than Rosa does.

Anette Bening, Timothy Spall, and Oliver Platt round out the cast, in fun but mostly superfluous roles as activist role models for Ginger. Hendricks does a good job (even with a shaky British accent) as Natalie, to the point where the movie really needed more of her, and more of her interacting with Ginger. The climax revolves around Natalie taking an action that doesn’t feel at all in line with the character as the audience has been given to understand her, which underscores how little has been revealed about her.

Ginger & Rosa is a pretty, well-intentioned, ultimately hollow experience. The most emotion it inspires is hate for one of its characters, possibly more than intended. Fanning is able to further demonstrate that she’s an actor to watch, but if she does make it big, this film will be a footnote in her career.