56th BFI London Film Festival: ‘Ginger & Rosa’
By Matthew Rodgers On October 21, 2012 @ 4:03 pm In Movies & TV | No Comments
Arthouse darling Sally Potter’s latest is more straightforward than some of her previous offerings. A coming-of-age yarn set in 1960s London against the background of the Cuban missile crisis, it charts the lives of two very different teenage girls: Ginger (Elle Fanning), an intelligent, wannabe activist, tiptoeing towards adulthood, and Rosa (Alice Englert), a more promiscuous young femme, no less gifted but with a desire for nicotine and adolescent anarchy over war protests.
Both come from broken or fractured families, with Rosa’s father having left when she was a child, and Ginger’s loveless parents – Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks and Alessandro Nivola – putting on a front for the sake of their daughter. Any love lost between them isn’t reciprocated in their adoration of her, even if, like her bosom buddy, she shows disdain for her mother, frustrated that she doesn’t share her desire to make a difference, believing that she has chosen the mundanities of being a housewife.
Truth be told, Ginger & Rosa is a bit of a bore. The opening scenes initially impress, with their lack of forced exposition and genuinely striking use of “looks” rather than dialogue – all distant glances and mood setting. That is until the realisation sets in that this is the kind of pretentious navel gazing you’re going to get for the remainder of the film.
Potter succeeds with the authenticity of the era and the sets, especially with the way the dull décor of the girls’ houses reflects their states of mind. Shorn of the responsibilities of adulthood, the girls skip through bomb sites, or are shown beautifully framed against a pebbled beach bus-stop.
However, all of this is undermined by the pomposity of the heightened dialogue. It’s fine for Ginger to spout lines that sound like scribblings from Bob Dylan’s bar napkin; she is a poetic waif who aches with expressionism as a character trait. But each and every person in the movie speaks in such a stagey manner that you can’t connect to it on any level.
There’s one very simple reason for watching Ginger & Rosa, and that’s another superlative turn from Elle Fanning. In among watching Hendricks struggle so hard to convince with an English accent that she forgets how to emote, and Annette Bening turning up as a self-righteous, walking propaganda leaflet, Fanning is a delightful slice of accessibility in the over-earnest dramatics. Evolving before your eyes, she captivates in a way that’s becoming the norm in her embryonic career. There is a moment at the dinner table when she reacts to her father’s (Nivola, it must be said, is also very good) affections being placed elsewhere in the room that is simply breathtaking.
It’s a shame that it’s a performance enveloped in a movie that is so aware of how great it thinks it is, with the philosophising and idealism, that it forgets to engage as a piece of entertainment.
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