out of Five
Running time: 89
Beautifully shot and superbly acted, this is an engaging and evocative coming-of-age drama, though it's let down by a fragmented structure, some disappointing dialogue and an over-reliance on poetry that's both distracting and annoying.
What's it all about?
Directed by Sally Potter, Ginger and Rosa is set in 1962 London and stars Elle Fanning (13 at the time of filming, but effortlessly playing 16) and Alice Englert (daughter of Jane Campion) as best friends Ginger and Rosa, who've grown up together since they were both born in the same hospital on the same day. Unsettled by the Cuban Missile Crisis, the girls react in different ways: Ginger throws herself into the protest movement, while Rosa secretly pursues a dangerous crush on Ginger's fiercely liberal-minded father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), who's recently separated from his wife (Christina Hendricks, struggling a little with the British accent).
Elle Fanning and Alice Englert are both terrific as the two leads, delivering strong performances that burn with the white-hot intensities of adolescence, each channelled in a different direction.
Nivola is equally good, making Roland into a complex and surprisingly sympathetic figure, despite his obvious wrongdoings, while there's superb support from Annette Bening (as politically active family friend May Bella, who counsels Ginger) and delightful turns from Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt as “the Marks”, Ginger's gay godparents.
Potter creates a powerfully evocative atmosphere that's rich with period detail, heightened by Robbie Ryan's gorgeous cinematography, a fabulous soundtrack and some superlative production design work. On top of that, she orchestrates a number of memorable scenes, such as Ginger and Rosa shrinking their jeans in the bath and chatting, or the scene between the two girls and Roland where Ginger first realises what her friend is up to.
The main problem with the film is that the structure of the script often feels choppy, with several promising subplots (such as Ginger's attraction to one of her protest movement friends) feeling underdeveloped, though it does rally for an emotionally fraught climax that makes up for a lot of earlier lapses. Similarly, the dialogue is occasionally a little trite and the film is almost undone by its over-reliance on poetry (it's almost never a good idea to have characters reading poems in voiceover, especially not their own poems), which is both distracting and annoying.
Despite its flaws, Ginger and Rosa is a stylishly directed, emotionally engaging coming-of-age story that's worth seeing for the terrific performances by the two young leads.