Movie Review: “Ginger & Rosa”

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The principles of ’60s radicalism clash with the murkier morality of
those who practiced it in Sally Potter’s sharply observed coming-of-age
melodrama, “Ginger & Rosa.” The filmmaker, still best-known for
“Orlando” twenty years since that break-out work, presents this conflict
as it seen through the eyes of a teenage girl.
Ginger (Elle Fanning), nicknamed because of the red hair she inherited from her
mother (Christina Hendricks of “Mad Men”), is a hip, jazz-and-poetry
loving teen daughter of a radical chic couple in 1962 London. Mom has a
hint of the traditional about her. But DadĀ  (Alessandro Nivolla) insists
that she and her friends call him by his first name, Roland.
Roland’s a writer and dedicated pacifist. Mom gave up a career in art to have Ginger right at the end of World War II.
It’s what ended World War II that drives Ginger to the nascent nuclear disarmament movement. Of course, Roland approves.
“That’s my girl. You’re an activist, not a supplicant.”
But Ginger’s fatherless, romantic pal Rosa (Alice Englert of “Beautiful
Creatures”) doesn’t get it. She’s more into worldly things — boys,
smoking, taking teenage risks. They sit in the tub together, confessing
their dreams — Ginger’s decided to become a poet, Rosa is looking for
true love — while soaking and shrinking their new Levis.
Potter’s film is at is most artful in the painterly ways she composes the
wordless scenes of the girls testing cigarettes, hitchhiking with the
wrong boys and Rosa exploring heavy petting with another boy, showing
off for Ginger.
Ginger’s world, away from Rosa, is of protests,
protest planning meetings and listening in on the adult chat of her
parents’ group, academic pacifists MarkĀ  (Timothy Spall) and Mark Two
(Oliver Platt) and Mark Two’s outspoken lover, Bella (Annette Bening).
Heady stuff for a girl just deciding her worldview and what she wants to be
when she grows up. But as much as she rejects her mother’s domesticity,
as urgent as the anti-nukes movement must have been on the cusp of the
Cuban Missile Crisis, is this the proper environment to raise a child?
As “The Ice Storm” passed judgment on ’70s morality, Potter wrestles with
the idealism of the age and the malleable ethics of those who practiced
it, contrasting the two Marks with Ginger’s committed pacifist/committed
womanizer father. Nivolla, of “Cocoa Before Chanel,” cuts a fine figure
of a shaggy-haired writer who keeps a small sailboat, because of what
it says about him, because “there’s poetry in small spaces” and because
that tiny cabin is perfect for assignations with college coeds.
The Americans in the cast blend quite well with the native Brits. But the
characters are all drawn in fairly broad strokes — Rosa’s carnal
yearnings and disregard for the state of the world, Ginger’s doe-eyed
obsession with the nuclear age that heralded her birth, Mom’s weeping
frustrations trying to bring the wandering Roland to heel.
Bening gives Bella a beautifully brittle proto-feminist edge, but even that is a cliche.
That casts a veil of the overly-familiar to “Ginger & Rosa,” when
compared to, say, the far superior “An Education.” There the sense that
we’ve heard this argument before, that we remember how it came out and
that for all its high-mindedness, Potter is basically indulging in
nothing more than ’60s nostalgia, albeit with a more jaundiced, adult
eye.

MPAA Rating:PG-13 for mature disturbing
thematic material involving teen choices – sexuality, drinking, smoking,
and for language
Cast: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Annette Bening, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt
Credits: Written and directed. An A24 release.
Running time: 1:30

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