The movie is a pretty decent coming-of-age yarn, but Elle Fanning's performance in “Ginger & Rosa” is even better.
Fanning, younger sister of Dakota, is red-haired Ginger, and Alice Englert, daughter of director Jane Campion (“The Piano”), is Rosa. They're best pals somewhere between being girls and being women, trying adulthood on for size between fits of giggling.
Set in 1962 England, the movie frames the girls' view of their future through the lens of the nuclear arms race, when people feared that the U.S.-Soviet rivalry could annihilate the planet.
In fact, the first image in the movie is of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, in 1945, when Ginger's and Rosa's mothers are in labor side by side in a London hospital.
Rosa's father soon splits, leaving a void that can't be filled and a mother embittered about men. Flash forward 17 years, and Ginger is complaining to Rosa about her bickering parents, Roland (Alessandro Nivola, “Mansfield Park”) and Natalie (Christina Hendricks, “Mad Men”).
“At least you have a dad, who takes you out and stuff,” Rosa shoots back. Rosa seems headed for trouble, and Ginger's mom worries that she'll take Ginger with her.
A crisis point arrives when Roland moves out, philosophizing about how he doesn't believe in marriage and wants to embrace a counterculture lifestyle of freedom.
Watch: 'Ginger and Rosa' trailer
“Confinement can be utterly beautiful,” Roland tells the girls during an outing on his small sailboat, “but only if it's a choice.” He did prison time as a conscientious objector during World War II.
Rebellious Ginger, rattled by a mother she feuds with and a father she adores but doesn't understand, channels her insecurity into becoming an activist for the ban-the-bomb movement.
She gets encouragement from her gay godfathers, Mark (Timothy Spall) and Mark II (Oliver Platt), as well as their professorial friend Bella (Annette Bening).
These are good actors in roles that don't take them far, but they make the most of the screen time they have.
Though the movie's title makes you think this is about friendship, it's soon clear that this story will be more about Ginger as circumstances take a rather melodramatic and somewhat expected turn.
While fear of the bomb and a fatalistic view of the future magnify Ginger's insecurities, the real crisis she must face has to do with betrayal, on several fronts.
Director-screenwriter Sally Potter (“Orlando”) does a great job of evoking ever-changing moods as Ginger's emotions scatter, then shatter.
But what makes the movie most worth seeing is Fanning's amazing performance, which stirred more than a little Oscar buzz last winter.
She didn't get a nomination, but the movie marks her as an up-and-comer to watch. This time out, watch her as closely as you like. You'll be hard-pressed to come up with a false moment.
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