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Life in London during the 1960s is a dark and troubled time for Ginger (Elle Fanning) and her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert). The radio buzzes with threats of a nuclear holocaust and the ensuing end of the world. Afraid that every day may be her last, Ginger, an aspiring poet, becomes obsessed with banning the bomb, marching in protest rallies and joining a youth group opposed to war.
But the world scene isn’t the only thing teetering on the brink of destruction in this challenging movie. At home, war of a different kind wages and her family implodes. Her father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a freethinking writer with thin morals, shamelessly spends time with his young and beautiful students. He scoffs at religion, belittles his daughter’s curiosity about God, and prods her to embrace his attitude that detests any sort of moral obligation, familial responsibility or social accountability. As Ginger’s mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks) bemoans her role as wife, mother and homemaker, the married couple’s arguments and palpable disdain for one another escalate and cloud every family interaction.
Meanwhile Ginger and Rosa distance themselves from their homes, wandering the dark streets of London into the wee hours of the morning, smoking, drinking and in Rosa’s case, engaging in sex on a dirty city sidewalk.
Ginger and Rosa is a difficult film to watch on many levels. From the opening scenes, a sense of foreboding permeates the script particularly when Roland lustily peers at Rosa in the car’s rearview mirror. After being abandoned by her father, Rosa seeks male acceptance and love in any form she can get it—even if it means becoming a mere sexual object. Mature themes of infidelity, child sexual abuse and teen substance abuse are also prevalent in the script along with two strong sexual expletives and a smattering of profanities. Equally unsettling is watching the naïve and gentle Ginger face problems and worries unfitting for her tender years.
With no anchor at home, Ginger’s only emotional caregivers come in the form of her godfathers, Mark One and Mark Two (Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt) and their radical friend May Bella (Annette Bening). But even their attention is only a substitute for the family affection she wants in a world spiraling out of control.
While the theme and content of this film, written and directed by Sally Potter, makes this movie appropriate for only the oldest of teens, this well-made production offers strong performances by its young cast members, Fanning and Englert, who both bring a sense of pathos and disquiet to their characters.
And like Charles Dickens’ English character, Mrs. Jellyby, who is more interested in saving the children of Africa than caring for her own family, Ginger’s mom and dad forsake their parental responsibilities in favor of their own pains and passions. But leaving their daughter to fare for herself in a world that is spiraling out of control globally and personally comes at a high cost to the young girl whose innocence and childhood are lost far too soon.
Limited Theatrical Release: 31 August 2012
Ginger and Rosa is rated PG-13: for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices - sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language.
Director: Sally Potter
Cast: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Annette Bening
Studio: 2012 A24 / MGM/UA Entertainment Co.
Website: Official site for Ginger and Rosa.