An extraordinary cast lifts this grim British drama into something watchable, even if the script ultimately gives up trying to make any sense. The main problem is that the story is very badly fragmented, but it still captures a vivid sense of how it felt to grow up in 1962 Britain. And the actors give performances that bring the characters to life even in scenes that are somewhat melodramatic.
Ginger and Rosa (Fanning and Englert) are inseparable 16-year-olds who were born in the same hospital on the same day. As they both ponder the horrific possibilities of the Cold War, their reactions begin to diverge, perhaps their first disagreement ever. Ginger's parents (Hendricks and Nivola) are liberal-minded and about to separate yet again, so she takes a militant approach to stopping nuclear annihilation. Rosa lives with her deeply religious single mother (May) and believes that the only thing to do is pray about it. But the thing that drives a real wedge between the girls is Ginger's suspicion that her dad might be having an affair with Rosa.
In the early scenes, Potter establishes the girls as imaginative friends with free spirits who do everything together. Then the plot begins to take increasingly dark twists and turns, leading to a series of awkward or downright horrible confrontations that are freaky and emotional but also thoroughly mawkish. There's a lot of glowering and weeping on display from everyone on-screen. Fortunately Fanning and newcomer Englert maintain a loose honesty in their performances that helps carry us through the difficult moments. And the starry supporting cast is terrific.
It's also beautifully shot, capturing the period with atmospheric touches including constant reports about the Cuban Missile Crisis on televisions and radios in the background. There's a darkly sumptuous texture to Robbie Ryan's cinematography and some terrific bluesy-jazz music on the soundtrack. So it's annoying that the story lurches so jarringly from scene to scene, shifting perspectives in ways that continually undermine any emotional resonance. Which kind of leaves the whole movie feeling petulant and surly.
Box Office Worldwide: $1M
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Director: Sally Potter
Producer: Andrew Litvin, Christopher Sheppard
Screenwriter: Sally Potter
Starring: Elle Fanning as Ginger, Alice Englert as Rosa, Christina Hendricks as Natalie, Alessandro Nivola as Roland, Timothy Spall as Mark, Annette Bening as Bella, Jodhi May as Anoushka, Oliver Platt as Mark Two, Oliver Milburn as Roger, Gregory Bennett as Demo Policeman, Andrew Hawley as Tony, Richard Strange as Man at Dinner Party, Marcus Shakesheff as Teddy Boy Driver, Matt Hookings as Policeman, Philip Harvey as Demo Policeman, Andy Joy as Crucifer, Robin Harvey as CND Protester