MRR Review: "Ginger & Rosa"

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Rewind back to London 1962, and teenagers Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) are inseparable; they skip class together, discuss religion, politics and hairstyles, and dream of lives bigger than their mothers' frustrated domesticity. But, as the Cold War meets the sexual revolution, and the threat of nuclear holocaust looms even closer, the lifelong bond between the two girls is fractured by the dramatically changing circumstances of the times in which they're living.
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MRR Review: "Ginger & Rosa"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 19, 2012
Directed by: Sally Potter
Genre: Drama

Born in the same London hospital room on a day in 1945 when an atomic bomb brings devastation to Hiroshima, Ginger and Rosa become childhood best friends. The story picks up after the dramatic opening sequence with a jump to fifteen years in the future. Now teenagers, the girls are dealing with everything that age range entails. Hormones, new discoveries, relationship struggles, and family matters pervade the film, and all of it is set to a backdrop of 1960s music and paranoia about the Cold War.

Director Sally Potter brings a large vision to "Ginger & Rosa," and she manages to pull some of it off with the help of a brilliant cast. Ginger is played by Elle Fanning, who made her film debut more than a decade ago by playing younger versions of her sister Dakota in movies like "I Am Sam." Since those days, Elle has proven her own worth as a well-rounded actress by turning in excellent performances in recent movies like "Because of Winn-Dixie," "Super 8," and "We Bought a Zoo."

Rosa is played by another young actress with a winning Hollywood pedigree. Although her résumé is shorter than Fanning's, Alice Englert is the daughter of award-winning filmmakers and recently starred in "Beautiful Creatures." Other notable cast members in "Ginger & Rosa" include Annette Bening, Oliver Platt, Timothy Spall, and Christina Hendricks.

Though they are backed by a number of experienced performing artists, Fanning and Englert carry the bulk of the movie due to the subject matter. A myriad of themes and secondary plot lines imbue the film, but at its heart, it is still a movie about two teenage girls coming of age in a decade fraught with social and political change. As the girls discuss world issues, such as the Cuban missile crisis, they learn that fear, loss, and disappointment can also hit close to home in many small ways.

Ginger sees her family fall apart as the result of an affair. The girls see their friendship suffer, seemingly as a result of Rosa's actions and betrayal of Ginger but more likely the result of growing up. While Rosa seeks relief in the sexual, emotional, and social freedoms of 1960s London, Ginger buries herself in the liberating world of politics.

Potter does a fabulous job of bringing the angst of the teenage years, the dreamy quality involved in coming of age, and the turmoil of the 1960s to the screen. Perhaps one of the biggest accomplishments for "Ginger & Rosa" is that the story manages to do so much in a 90-minute timeframe. At a time when blockbuster movies are often more than two hours long, it is refreshing to see a director bring a short movie to life in a way that provides an emotional hit for the audience.

"Ginger & Rosa" does fall down in some places. Hendrick's portrayal as Ginger's mother is forced at times, and the story might be viewed as grim by some. Fans of Potter's less traditional work, like "Orlando" and "The Tango Lesson," may also be disappointed by the general-audience feel of "Ginger & Rosa." That being said, the stellar teen performances in this film go far to redeem any lackluster qualities in the story. The young actresses convey intensity, innocence, and isolation in all the right places. They deliver a dual performance that is memorable, though most people are going to remember Fanning's contribution a bit more clearly. That's to be expected since she is the more experienced actress, even if she had her first onscreen kiss during this movie.

In addition to engaging performances from Fanning and Englert, viewers will be captured by Potter's treatment of the historical setting. The film is full of icons and symbols, including a feminist poet played by Annette Bening, plenty of 1960s jazz, and radio broadcasts about Cold War dangers. Potter contrasts these historic images early in the film with pictures of the friendship between Ginger and Rosa. The girls engage in a number of timeless activities, including fixing each other's hair and practicing kisses amid a fit of giggles.

Overall, "Ginger & Rosa" is a thoughtful film that reaches out of the Cold War era and into the hearts of modern viewers. Some things have changed in the world since the time of "Ginger & Rosa," but friendship, betrayal, and growing up are still very much the same.

Rating 3 out of 5