While we still have more than enough atomic bombs to wipe out the whole civilization of ours, there has not been any moment as fearful as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Not long after seeing how destructive a small atomic bomb could be at the end of the World War II, people around the world became scared by the possibility of apocalypse as watching two powerful leading nations in the middle of their nuclear poker game, and some people knew well that nothing could possibly help them and others if the nuclear attack began.
With such a terrifying time as its period background, Sally Potter’s “Ginger & Rosa” tells a coming-of-age drama revolving around one girl who happens to go through painful moments as opening her eyes to her own small world and the world outside. Her name is Ginger(Elle Fanning), and she was born in 1945 when the World War II was about to end with two atomic bombings in Japan. Her best friend Rosa(Alice Englert, a daughter of Jane Campion) also happened to be born at the same time in the same hospital, and now they become spirited teenager girls who are ready to embrace the change to be brought in the 1960s. They enjoy their evening together whenever they get a chance, and sex and alcohol come handy to them if they want.
Of course, their mothers are not so pleased about this. Ginger’s mother Natalie(Christina Hendricks) has sacrificed many things during her unhappy married life with her husband Roland(Alessandro Nivola), and she begins to worry about her daughter because Ginger can make the same mistake she made when she was at Ginger’s age. There was indeed the time when Natalie loved Roland a lot, but she has been having a fair share of disillusionment thanks to her husband who has not been much of help to her hard management of their household. While Roland has a job(he teaches students at some university while writing articles and other things), his salary is not enough to support his family, and he does not seem to appreciate much his wife’s efforts. When she shows her wish to be loved and appreciated during one dinner, he gives her a rather cold response at first but then reluctantly comforts her after belatedly realizing that she feels really hurt about that.
Roland is a care-free guy with charm and intelligence, and Ginger naturally worships her dad. As a guy valuing freedom and independent thoughts, he is happy to see his daughter maturing with more thoughts of her own, and she is also encouraged by Roland’s liberal friends including Bella(Annette Benning) and Mark and Mark Two(Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt), a gay couple who are also Ginger’s godfathers.
Through their influence, Ginger’s attention is drawn to the campaign against nuclear weapon, and she begins to think more seriously about what can happen to the world because of atomic bombs. The government tries to assure to citizens that they can be all right if they follow emergency protocols, but, like Ginger and others, most of us know well that it is wiser to be killed at the ground zero if full nuclear attack is about to happen. Seriously, who can possibly want to survive among the ruins covered with radioactive ashes?
As her mind is being occupied with this social/political matter threatening the world outside, her private world also begins to be shaken. Her parents goes through another period of separation, and it seems to be the end of their marriage in this time. Ginger chooses to live with her dad as she wants, but she only finds that she is not so treated well just like her mother. Her dad is busy with his works as usual, and she is only reminded that her presence is more like a burden to him although that does not mean that he does not care about her.
Meanwhile, she also finds that Rosa becomes less friendly than before as their difference becomes clearer to both of them. Unlike Ginger, Rosa thinks her personal feeling is more important than what is going on in the world outside, and it is pretty apparent to us where her feeling is heading even before Ginger realizes what is going on between her friend and her dad during one night when they are together on his boat.
Along with the Cuban Missile Crisis, an unexpected revelation from her friend puts Ginger in more anger and confusion, and that eventually results in an expected melodramatic scene involved with all of the main characters. The director/writer Sally Potter draws good performances from her cast, and Alessandro Nivola is particularly unlikable during that scene as a self-absorbed man who should have seen how much pain he has casually inflicted on others. Even when he is confronted by others for what he has done, Roland only hides behind petty ideological excuses, but then he learns a really painful lesson about himself in the end as facing the consequence.
Needlessly to say, the center of the movie is Elle Panning, who previously gave a breakout performance in Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere”(2010) and recently appears in the upcoming film “Maleficent”(2014). She is very believable here in this film as a smart, sensitive girl struggling with her emotionally difficult time, and her excellent performance confirms that she is becoming a wonderful actress like her elder sister Dakota Fanning.
While it may be a little too short to give enough space for other talented actors surrounding Fanning, “Ginger & Rosa” did its job well within its short running time as a familiar but engaging coming-of-age drama. Its ending feels a bit abrupt, but we can sense that Ginger has grown up a lot through her pains as recognizing that things will never be same as before. Maybe she cannot change the world as she wants, but she now knows that she can do something at least for herself – and her life to live.