Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.

Review: 'Ginger & Rosa' a showcase for Elle Fanning

MoviesElle FanningAlessandro NivolaSally PotterOliver PlattSomewhere (movie)

As the ampersand between their names indicates, "Ginger & Rosa" are inseparable, pals since birth, best friends for as long as anyone can remember. At least until now.

It's 1962 in London, and 17-year-old Rosa worries about finding true love, "the kind that lasts forever." Ginger, however, has other, weightier concerns. "If there is a forever," is her immediate response, with a big emphasis on the "if."

An empathetic and aware film, "Ginger & Rosa" is several striking things all at once. It's an adult look at the teenage years, an examination of how personal emotions inform political action, a noteworthy change of pace for writer-director Sally Potter and, most of all, the showcase for a performance by Elle Fanning as Ginger that is little short of phenomenal.

PHOTOS: SXSW 13 must-see films

The younger sister of Dakota Fanning and an actress since she was 2, Elle Fanning is a known quantity to many moviegoers through performances in films such as "Somewhere," "Super 8" and "We Bought a Zoo." But even all that doesn't quite prepare you for what she's done here.

As a young person increasingly fearful about the threat of nuclear annihilation, especially as the Cuban missile crisis unfolds, Fanning displays a dazzling naturalness on camera, an ability to move persuasively between any number of emotions, from hesitant to sassy to distraught to anything else you can name.

Fanning's work is so impressive, it makes what weaknesses "Ginger & Rosa" has seem unimportant. She's reason enough to see the film all by herself.

For Potter, the innovative director of 1992's "Orlando," a film this straight ahead and naturalistic is a real departure. "I tried to eliminate some of my aesthetic habits and obsessions," she says in a press notes interview, "and make it a film about the complexity of experience."

"Ginger & Rosa" starts with newsreel footage of the atomic bomb blast and resulting devastation at Hiroshima that overshadows the entire story. Then we see the two girls born in adjoining hospital beds and watch as their mothers' lives take different turns.

The husband of Anoushka (Jodhi May) deserts her early on, leaving her to raise Rosa (Alice Englert, director Jane Campion's daughter) on her own. Ginger's mother, Natalie ("Mad Men's" Christina Hendricks), remains married, but her husband, Roland (an expert Alessandro Nivola), is a hard dog to keep under the porch.

Both idealist and hedonist, Roland went to prison as a conscientious objector during World War II and is now a writer and pacifist thinker who believes "our only life is the one we have now; that's why we must seize it and live while we have the chance." Though he clearly loves his daughter, he is often glib and sarcastic toward Natalie and seems to chafe at the whole notion of marriage.

PHOTOS: Movies Sneaks 2013

Meanwhile, the inseparable Ginger and Rosa do classic teenage things together like flirt with boys, argue with their parents and iron their hair to straighten it. United by wonderful complicit looks, they are essentially trying out adult moves for size, figuring out the shape of their lives.

But while Rosa becomes obsessed with the opposite sex, Ginger gets increasingly serious, reading T.S. Eliot and Simone de Beauvoir and worrying that "we could all die tomorrow." She starts to attend ban the bomb meetings and takes part in mass rallies held by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

These five central characters are all sharply written and well-acted, but the film's peripheral characters don't fare as well. Anoushka's two gay friends, Mark (Timothy Spall) and Mark Two (Oliver Platt), seem as arbitrary as their names, and Annette Bening does as much as she can with the underwritten role of an American poet named Bella.

Also problematic, albeit inevitable, are some of the more melodramatic plot roads "Ginger & Rosa" heads down, but Fanning's performance is so potent, she feels things so deeply, you barely notice. When Spall's Mark responds to Ginger's earnest adult seriousness with a sad "Can't you be a girl for a moment or two longer?" we feel that regret quite as strongly as he does.

kenneth.turan@latimes.com

--

'Ginger & Rosa'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature, disturbing thematic material involving teen choices — sexuality, drinking, smoking — and for language

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: At Landmark, West Los Angeles

PHOTOS AND MORE PHOTOS: Faces to watch 2014 | Movies ENVELOPE: The latest awards buzz DOCUMENTARIES: 10 best of 2013, and a new crop in 2014

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
MoviesElle FanningAlessandro NivolaSally PotterOliver PlattSomewhere (movie)
  • Hopkins picked to create Ebola training tool
    Hopkins picked to create Ebola training tool

    Federal health regulators picked Johns Hopkins Medicine on Friday to lead development of a Web-based tool to train doctors, nurses and other health care workers on the protocols they should follow when treating patients with, or at risk of contracting, Ebola.

  • Police search Towson U office of rabbi
    Police search Towson U office of rabbi

    Police searching the Towson University office of a prominent Georgetown rabbi accused of secretly recording women in a ritual bath found a backpack with an assortment of tiny cameras hidden in everyday household objects, including a computer charger, a clock and a tissue box, according to a...

  • In rare move, hands-on Ulman seeks job as No. 2
    In rare move, hands-on Ulman seeks job as No. 2

    Democrat Ken Ulman, dressed in Lucky jeans and a polo shirt, strode to the entrance of Robinson Nature Center, excited to give a tour of one of his favorite accomplishments as Howard County executive.

  • Rutherford known for 'making the trains run on time'
    Rutherford known for 'making the trains run on time'

    Boyd Rutherford was raised in a Democratic family in Democratic Northeast Washington, but the running mate of Republican Larry Hogan says he decided early on that the GOP was closer to his values.

  • Sun endorsement: Brown for governor
    Sun endorsement: Brown for governor

    Our view: The race presented a difficult choice, but we believe the lieutenant governor would be better able to enact the changes needed to maintain Md.'s prosperity

  • Retailers get ready for a brighter holiday season
    Retailers get ready for a brighter holiday season

    Consumers may be thinking more about buying candy for Halloween than gifts for the holidays right now, but food-themed tree ornaments already sprout from a display at Sur La Table in Towson Town Center.

Comments
Loading