Sally Potter (The Tango Lesson) wrote and directed this coming of age drama set in 1960’s London. It is an era that interests me, and Potter, with her previous work on films like Orlando, The Man Who Cried and the aforementioned The Tango Lesson, is a filmmaker I like to keep an eye on, her work offering an original and unique voice that I enjoy listening to.
It’s 1962 and we meet Ginger and Rosa, two teenage girls who have the sort of friendship that finds them joined at the hip more often than not. Together, they discuss poetry, politics, life and war, they play truant from school and they contemplate life as grown up’s, hoping to make more of themselves as what they perceive their mother’s to have done. With the danger of an approaching Cold War, and the sexual revolution of the 1960’s moulding them, the two clash and disintegrate as they deal with life in that place, at that time, while attempting to adapt and survive.
Elle Fanning (Maleficent) as Ginger and Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures) as Rosa, are fine in their roles, with Englert being the most adept of the two, offering a more mature performance and bringing more emotions to her character. Fanning is ok, but she doesn’t seem quite as comfortable with the themes being dealt with, and appears to be a petulant child in scenes where I feel like the aim was for the viewer to sympathize with her. Christina Hendricks, an actress I have a fondness for, is way too under-utilized in her role as Ginger’s mother, Natalie. Her performance was the best in the film, easily, and I would have liked to have spent more time with her, hearing her story, and seeing how life under the thumb of where she found herself has made her feel. Alessandro Nivola (Face Off) as Ginger’s father, Roland, who walked out on Natalie to spread his wings in his own mind, finding his perceived potential that he felt his family couldn’t be a part of, is a character who is way too rotten and arrogant to have any positive feelings about. A tepid and bland artsy-fartsy guy with an antagonistic swagger about him, Roland makes poor decisions throughout the story, including one in particular, involving his daughter’s best friend, Rosa, which is fairly shocking to witness.
For the most-part though, we spend time with Ginger and Rosa themselves as they see them drifting apart due to various situations, and attempting to find out who they are as they grow up. It’s an interesting film that offers some darker insights into the time period and shines a light on how childhood friendship can often lead to hate and the separation of what once appeared to be kindred spirits. The costume and set design is nicely done, and the writing is top notch, bringing some anarchy to the political views that show an early glimpse of punk rock attitude that would spread across the urban underground of England. Where the film falters though is with its mismanaged screen-time and lack of focus, and how many of the secondary characters seem to be just thrown in, dimension-less and without much meaning. Elle Fanning was also a little too whiny for me to really enjoy, but that is a minor gripe, because it is actually a fairly authentic portrayal of teenage life, those buggers do like a good moan, don’t they?
Sally Potter has certainly created better, but this isn’t a bad film, not at all. I expected more, yes, and I thought there would be more time spent looking at the struggles of life in that era, rather than on what I felt were less interesting topics. A tale of dysfunction, love and friendship, and the trouble with each of those things, it’s an easy watch, and pretty short too, so it may be worth your time.