Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa is an exercise in efficiency. There’s nary a wasted composition nor scene. Writer-director Potter doesn’t feel the need to spoon-feed the audience.
She evidences her trust in our ability to pick up nuance within the plot, and that’s refreshing, but there’s a downside to this trust in that the film often feels too dramatically slender.
At its base, Ginger & Rosa is little more than a drama of the kitchen sink school — and with a belief in its own importance that’s never quite justified by what’s onscreen. The film likely works better if you relate to its subject matter about growing up as a teenage girl in 1960s London during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Besides my obviously never having been a teenage girl, there are a few reasons why I don’t quite connect with Potter’s concerns — mostly because my interests in ‘60s London lie in the music and film of the time. Oddly, that’s something the movie never touches on.
Despite these flaws, Ginger & Rosa is made by a filmmaker with a welcome sensitivity to her subjects — and it’s a striking film. In fact, this is one of the more visually appealing films I’ve seen this year.
While Potter claims that Ginger & Rosa isn’t autobiographical, there’s an obvious connection here (Potter was the same age as her main characters during that time, for instance). The film’s and this personal aspect is what makes it worth paying attention to. Potter clearly cares about her characters, and she’s especially astute at showing the pain and confusion that comes hand-in-hand with the infinite optimism inherent in growing up. Viewed through the eyes of the titular Ginger (Elle Fanning, We Bought a Zoo) and Rosa (Alice Englert, Beautiful Creatures), the journey into adulthood is personified in the former’s political awakening in the face of nuclear war, and the latter’s sexual enlightenment. With their entire lives ahead of them — and the possibilities this affords Ginger and Rosa — we see them in contrast to Ginger’s mother (Christina Hendricks), who gave up her dreams of being a painter when she became pregnant as a teenager. In a cinematic world ruled almost exclusively by men, Ginger & Rosa is firmly feminine.
While Potter obviously understands her characters and handles them gently — an approach that engenders sympathy in the viewer — there’s not much depth to either girl. Rosa is ruled by little more than a stilted, wrong-headed idea of love, while Ginger is driven by an inherent desire to save the world and a general sense of teenage angst. The film’s subtlety exists in the way Potter tells a story that’s had all the fat cut off of it. While this simple, uncomplicated approach is often a welcome relief from the raft of bloated pictures that come down the pike, it has the unfortunate consequence of making Ginger & Rosa feel a bit slight. Regardless of these faults, the film remains genteel, wonderfully crafted and intensely personal — traits that make Potter’s film worth a look. Rated PG-13 for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices — sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas