Duck and Cover, by Aaron Pinkston
In Ginger & Rosa, two carefree young girls find out just how serious the world can be, driving them apart. Played by newcomer Alice Englert and fast-riser Elle Fanning, these two characters make a startling transformation over the film’s 90 minutes. With the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and in the shadow of the bombings on London during World War II, the film is incessantly bleak, despite the figures at its center. The film’s director, Sally Potter, is an interesting figure — one who burst onto the scene with the very compelling Orlando, but really hasn’t been heard from again. I couldn’t think of any films she has made since Orlando, so I thought maybe she hadn’t made any, but it turns out they all just sort of came and went. I really hope Ginger & Rosa finds an audience, if only for Fanning, who is truly incredible.
But that’s not all to like about the film, which is incredibly beautiful from shot to shot. Potter deftly creates a nice representation of 1960s London, capturing a look that feels very authentic. The actors are beautifully clothed, beautifully lit and beautifully shot. With Fanning especially, Potter uses her pale skin and vibrant red hair to their fullest effect, contrasting the dull browns and greens that make up the rest of the film’s visual palette. Nearly every shot has something to digest. And it does this without the typical masterful cinematography — no big, sweeping shots, everything is contained in spaces that are beautifully set and staged. If it doesn’t hold up as one of the most beautiful films of the year, 2013 will certainly be a very, very good year.
Dramatically, there is a little more that could be desired, and the film’s narrative seems to be the sticking point for its early dissenters. It’s a pretty simple coming-of-age drama; even though there are very bombastic events informing the story, all of the major dramatic moments of the film are character and family based. Worse, though, is that the film tips its hand way too early, setting up the key event in a way to make it feel obvious, not at all surprising. The performers sell it well enough, but too few narrative highs do stop me from outright loving this film.
You know what I do love, though? Elle Fanning. She has already had a number of wonderful performances — her turn in Super 8 was clearly the best thing about that film and she repeats that feat here. In all of her great performances thus far, there is no way to work around the fact that she is very much a young girl. That’s not to downgrade her talents, but you could always question if she would be able to make the leap into being a full-fledged adult actress. Even though she is still only 14-years-old, her work in Ginger & Rosa is incredibly mature — in a twist on the Hollywood norm, she is actually playing older than herself. There is a big difference between 14 and 17 in terms of development, but Fanning is completely believable. Perhaps the greater accomplishment is that she runs laps around great co-stars like Annette Benning, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt, Alessandro Nivola and Christina Hendricks. I think there is no doubt that she has a very bright future ahead of her.