Ginger & Rosa

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday March 15, 2013

Alice Englert and Elle Fanning in ’Ginger and Rosa’
Alice Englert and Elle Fanning in ’Ginger and Rosa’  (Source:Artificial Eye)

Sally Potter delves into history and imagination to tease out vivid moments in the lives of two young women, best friends who begin to grow apart as they grow up. But this is more than a coming of age movie; it's also a document and indictment on how the world at large affects each new generation.

"Ginger & Rosa" takes its title from its two young protagonists, who reach the threshold of womanhood in 1962 London even as the United States and Russia veer toward all-out nuclear war. Ginger (Elle Fanning) is the dreamier of the two; her father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), colors her developing sense of the world and her place in it. Roland encourages Ginger to think for herself and act according to her own conclusions; an academic with a certain sort of artistic streak, Roland has no interest in conforming to the usual social standards of conduct. He's dashing, and he's got the credentials of his convictions, having spent time in prison rather than fight in wartime. He's also one of those people who uses his artistic bent to insist that normal customs of courtesy are hollow -- a convenient rationalization to justify his own self-absorption and selfishness.

Ginger's mother (Christina Hendricks, who also plays the buxom Joan on "Mad Men") is an artist, also, but because she was a teen mother, she's long since given up painting and devoted herself to the drab work of running the home. It wears on her that Roland offers little thanks and no help in domestic matters, retreating to his boat (and a succession of younger girlfriends, many of them drawn from his own pool of students) rather than focusing on their marriage.

"This is more than a coming of age movie; it's also a document and indictment on how the world at large affects each new generation."

If Ginger withdraws from her mother's self-sacrificing mode of behavior, it's as much the result of the burgeoning sexual revolution as the example set by her father that accounts for it. The more intimate world of her family's close confidants also presents her with ideas and role models that depart from the traditional; her "two godfathers," a bi-national gay couple who are both named Mark (Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall) fill in some of the gaps in parental guidance, as does a feminist and poet named Bella (Annette Bening). They offer support and reassurance when Ginger needs it.

But she doesn't always want it; Rosa (Alice Englert) is adventurous and a little too mature for her age, and her energetic self-assurance appeals to Ginger. Rosa smokes, kisses boys, and even suggests the ultimate taboo: Attending church in order to pray that the world's superpowers might avoid blowing themselves up and, while they're at it, the rest of the world.

It's never stated that Ginger is in love with Rosa. And at that age what would it mean anyway? But there are implications here and there that while the girls share a strong bond, they might each experience it differently. Ginger betrays no interest in boys, just a worshipful emulation of her father (as well as his bohemian friends); when Rosa takes an age-inappropriate interest in Roland, Ginger's world teeters on the brink of a disaster that feels, to her, just as globally incinerating as the specter of World War III.

Potter writes as well as directs, which in this case is a virtue. As a writer, Potter knows just what she wants to say; as a director, she has a masterful way of saying it, evoking ineffable moods and showing us the world as Ginger, with an as-yet incomplete understanding, sees it. The question of whether Ginger likes boys or girls becomes as incidental as the fact that the two Marks are both men, and both Marks. By the end of the film, a brush with mass extinction serves as a backdrop and contrast to personal wisdom well earned through pain and loss. We might or might not be rather hopeless as a species (the half-century since the Cuban Missile Crisis has done little to resolve the question), but as individuals we're just full of surprises.


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.