Yes, the material - the classic coming-of-age tale, betrayal, angst, the endless possibilities and seemingly endless problems of adolescence - is surely familiar ground, having been tackled in an untold myriad of past movies, TV shows, books, comics, plays, poetry and even in song, but the way director Sally Potter, the woman behind such esoteric oddities as The Gold Diggers and The Man Who Cried, but who is best known for the Tilda Swinton starring gender bending, time traveling Virginia Woolf adaptation, Orlando, along with her cinematographer Robbie Ryan, the man behind the moody look of Andrea Arnold's Red Road and Fish Tank, make the film look and feel, such familiar ground is given a jagged, unexpected feel, even while maintaining what is essentially a smoothly melancholy mood throughout, eventually falling into the disarray of what the tormented life of the film's main protagonist becomes. Then again, even Potter's unique way with settings, and Ryan's equally unique way of setting those shots up, both of which give the film a truly bygone feel, full of what seems like tragic romance and long forgotten pasts, do not necessarily save Ginger and Rosa from its fateful date with the inevitable mediocrity that comes with, and awaits such familiar ground in film - and there are more than a few cliche's running around here - as much as the performance of the young and, dare I say, brilliantly talented, Miss Elle Fanning, in that aforementioned main protagonist role, does. One could, would and most definitely should, say that the young Miss Fanning, runs away with the movie.
Just fourteen years old (she will turn fifteen next month), though playing a character of seventeen, which just gives more proof of the young thespian's prowess as an actor, Miss Fanning, is Ginger, the more prominent of the titular duo of besties for (almost) life. Co-starring the eighteen year old Alice Englert, daughter of filmmaker Jane Campion, and who can be seen right now in Beautiful Creatures (this film technically came first so the credit of "introducing" is used here), Ginger and Rosa is the story of best friends who are both born of the atomic bomb - apparently born in England, side by side in hospital cots, as Hiroshima was being bombed into submission half a world away - and who are now living in a cold war world, as news of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is being blasted across the radio throughout the film. Both girls are from broken homes. Rosa is fatherless, and is forced to help her cleaning lady mum out with a brood of younger siblings, while Ginger's father (Allesandro Nivola) - who insists on being called Roland, as dad is too bourgeois of a title for his anarchist ways - sleeps around, and comes and goes as he pleases, leaving her mum (Christina Hendricks) an emotional wreck, and leaving Ginger in a constant state of sadness, either blatantly so, or often hidden behind a facade of gaiety. We are shown these actions through Ginger's POV, so it is the emotions of a young, and still quite naive, girl, that we get here, and therefore, never the whole story.
We see these two girls going about life, in those days of burgeoning sexuality, and typical teenage rebellion. As Rosa takes an overtly sexual path - including the inevitable hook up with Ginger's dad, Roland - Ginger takes the path of most resistance, becoming more and more active in the nuclear disarmament protest movement of the time, and taken under the wing of her godfathers, a middle age gay couple, both named Mark (Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt as Mark and Mark II, as they are called), and their visiting American poet friend, May Bella (delightfully played in the all-too-small part by Annette Bening), more and more angry with the world that scares her so much. Fanning's performance is an instinctive piece of work, and anyone already familiar with her work in Sofia Coppola's 2010 film, Somewhere, will not be surprised at such a display of naturalistic acting. With a face as angelic as it is both beautiful and dangerously anguished, her hair dyed red for the role, and the most expressive of faces at that, the young Fanning, already far surpassing older sister Dakota's flame, plays Ginger with equal parts tragedy and romantic idealism - a siren upon the screen, if you will, bashing our own emotions against the proverbial rocks, as her Ginger is ripped apart from the inside out, finally exploding, and exposing her guarded psyche, in the penultimate, cathartic scene. Quite remarkable indeed, even if treading dangerously on old familiar ground, and having an inherent streak for cliche. Quiet remarkable indeed.