“I’d prefer the world not to end, wouldn’t you?” asks Ginger (Elle Fanning). It was a common kind of question for teenagers in the days leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Maybe,” replies her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert), “if I find true love first.”
At the center of Ginger & Rosa is a bizarre metaphor between the loss of innocence and nuclear annihilation, one that is unfortunately as subtle as a mushroom cloud. The girls were born minutes apart in the same hospital and have spent all of their 16 years together. It’s a tender age; that moment you’re no longer a kid opens up a whole new world. For Rosa, it’s about finding faith for a while, then finding boys, then men. For Ginger, it’s about finding her voice through poetry and activism.
It would be more artful perhaps if the teens just drifted apart, the way teens do, but writer-director Sally Potter insensibly saddles the story not only with that apocalyptic metaphor, but a perfectly resistible plot-device albatross involving Ginger’s anarchist father (Alessandro Nivola). The rest of the characters have little to add but canned reactions — Christina Hendricks as Ginger’s mother, Annette Bening as a mid-century feminist and Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt as an intellectual gay couple.
Not lost in all of this is Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota. At only 14, she not only commands her British accent really well, but juggles a sensitive age she probably hasn’t experienced yet. It’s tougher to play older than younger, but you wouldn’t guess that from this example. Potter, wisely, lets Fanning run the show, but doesn’t give her star enough to work with. Just like being a teenager, Ginger & Rosa is a whole lot of emotion with nowhere to go.