Best known for her gender-bending adaptation of Orlando, Sally Potter has made her most accessible film to date with Ginger & Rosa, a coming-of-age story set in London during the Cuban missile crisis.
Elle Fanning plays Ginger, the daughter of frustrated radicals Roland and Nat (Alessandro Nivola and Christina Hendricks). As her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert) becomes ever more confident in her sexuality, seducing Roland with insouciant ease, Ginger begins attending ban the bomb meetings, absorbing the ideals of her parents’ liberal friends. While the two girls drift apart, Ginger struggles to make her beliefs fit with the realities of incipient adulthood.
Ginger & Rosa is a film that’s occasionally fascinating, but which at times feels light enough to float away entirely. Fanning gives an extraordinarily perceptive performance as Ginger, terrified not only of the Cuban missile crisis, but also of losing the people around her. Potter is especially good in making observations on how people adopt certain ideals to fit their own desires, and there are also some nice, sparely scripted moments between the two girls that draw the battle lines of their friendship in interesting ways. This is characterised in the film’s vision of London, a city that’s as terrifying and vague to Ginger as it is exciting and revolutionary to Rosa.
Ultimately, however, the film feels strangely over-determined, forcing the connection between the threat of the missile crisis and Ginger’s own crumbling worldview. It’s a scripting error that is at odds with Robbie Ryan’s ethereal cinematography and the refusal to simplify Ginger and Rosa’s turbulent relationship elsewhere. Some of Potter’s characters also steer dangerously close to parody, in particular Hendricks, poorly cast as Ginger’s put-upon mother and struggling with the accent. It’s a film with several striking moments, quietly intelligent and watchful, but which nevertheless never quite catches fire.