Movie review: Ginger & Rosa

10:25 AM, Apr 05, 2013

From left, Alice Englert and Elle Fanning play best friends in Ginger & Rosa, set in 1962 London. (NICOLA DOVE//GANNETT)/

Written By Bill Goodykoontz | Gannett Chief Film Critic

CriticÂ’s rating: 8

All politics is local, Tip O’Neill used to say.

That’s the case in Ginger & Rosa, Sally Potter’s film. It’s 1962 in London and the world is going to end. At least 17-year-old Ginger, played by the astonishingly accomplished Elle Fanning, thinks so, and it is not a hysterical notion.

The Cold War rages, after all, and the arrival of the Cuban Missile Crisis merely confirms for Ginger that her fears are well-grounded.

These are the thoughts that creep into Ginger’s head and haunt her, thanks no doubt in large part to her father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola). He is a noted activist and egotist who likes to remind his friends and family every so often that he spent time in jail as a conscientious objector to the war, in case they might have forgotten.

But mutually assured destruction isn’t the only thing Ginger thinks of; Potter, who also wrote the script, has created a more fully realized character than that. Ginger also romps around with Rosa (Alice Englert), her best friend literally since birth, sneaking illicit cigarettes, hitchhiking and making out with boys; the period details are spot-on. They share everything until, as it must be, they don’t.

Rosa is not particularly interested in Ginger’s increasing participation in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and Ginger doesn’t know what to make of Rosa starting to go to church, though each accompanies the other for a time. Ginger is encouraged in her activism not only by her father, but by her gay godparents (Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt) and their friend Bella (Annette Bening), a writer. Her mother (Christina Hendricks) isn’t quite so sure, but she is preoccupied with her on-again, off-again relationship with Roland, who is openly (and offensively) dismissive of her stay-at-home status.

But Ginger and Rosa’s growing political differences pale in comparison to a development both shocking and, given the personalities and circumstances involved, probably inevitable.

While Fanning stands out, Nivola is also fantastic. Roland’s narcissism knows no bounds. In his mind he is a hero, a brave soldier in the service of dissension and radicalism; if it had existed back then, FOX News would have pilloried him on a daily basis (if he’d been famous enough to make the broadcast). For a time he’s kind of a hero in Ginger’s mind, too. She sees him in as glowing a light as possible, for as long as that is possible. Nivola brings enough roguish charm to the character to make us understand Ginger’s admiration. To make us feel it at least a little.

Spall and Platt are also good as the sweet, smart godparents, as is Bening as their friendly foil and, eventually, like them, Ginger’s advocate. Hendricks isn’t given as much to do as the rest of the adults, and Englert’s character, though her relationship with Ginger is crucial to the film, is not as fully explored.