When I think of coming-of-age movies, I instantly roll my eyes. Automatically, I picture a troubled teenager receiving guidance from a wise adult that ultimately, helps them grow up. It's a genre that's too sticky sweet and safely predictable. What's funny about "Ginger & Rosa" however, is that, while it does revolve around a troubled teenager, two in fact, it doesn't have the optimistic ending we've grown so accustomed to. In fact, it gives one a more realistic truth: growing up is hard, not an excuse for a heart-warming tale.
Ginger and Rosa themselves are played by Elle Fanning and Alice Englert, two entrancing young actresses that never for a minute let us doubt that they aren't best friends. The twosome are BFF's before the term is even coined - they were born on the same day, at the same hospital, they're neighbors, they spend nearly every second of every day together - the list could go on for hours. The point is, they're basically the loves of each others lives. At least, that's how Ginger feels about it.
Ginger's home-life is a mess: her mother (Christina Hendricks) suffers from depression, while her father (Alessandro Nivola) is often absent and only acts as a part of the family on his own terms. Rosa is all she has. The film takes place in 1962, at the height of the Cold War. Ginger's life is a bomb that's ready to go off even more quickly than the threatening nuclear ones, especially when Rosa begins to show signs of letting go.
It's hard not to give too much away with "Ginger & Rosa", not necessarily because there is a vast number of plot-twists (there isn't), but because the story-telling is so precise and observant that knowing too much before-hand could easily ruin the effect the film has on the viewer.
Sally Potter writes and directs in a way that's ultra-flashy, with simmering cinematography and a great eye for the keen style of the '60s. But she isn't out to give us a large dose of nostalgia. No matter the decade, Ginger's story is timeless. Though it's bleak and often times heart-breaking, it is very realistic in the fears that take place when a teenager makes the transition to become a young adult. There are many times during the film where Ginger shows that she's terrified that the world is going to end. But by the end, we ask ourselves: is she more terrified of this event, or more of the fact that her life is going downhill anyways?
The nuclear war in the background works as a flawless parallel for looming adulthood. It's always in the background, creeping but not necessarily within breathing distance, and at the same time, Ginger and Rosa's changing from girls to young women is also "exploding". It's interesting how the two, originally such good friends, grow up in such different ways: Ginger tries as best as she can to find the optimism in things, maybe even relying to much on unreliable people, while Rosa proves that she's ready for the next stage in her life, maybe even selfishly so. In the long run, it shows how, even if you've known them for your entire life, your friends owe you nothing.
The film, already spectacular, always feels climactic due to Fanning's breathtaking performance. Previously known as just being "Dakota Fanning's little sister", she might completely eclipse her siblings career with this masterful performance. She's only fourteen, but she is mature and believable as a 17-year old. Fanning herself is obviously naïve and a bit of a sweetheart, and she seems to insert herself into portions of the conflicted Ginger. There are scenes where we simply watch her, with no words or interactions to guide us. Fanning is so absorbing that these moments are almost better than the instances of intensity. She is just as consuming as her scarlet hair.
"Ginger & Rosa" is an excellent film - it certainly doesn't deserve to be overlooked. It's at once simple, epic, beautiful, and compelling. All in all, a nearly flawless film.