The dual existential crises of young women coming of age and a world under the threat of war provide a fertile back drop for Sally Potter’s (Orlando) deeply personal Ginger and Rosa. Plugging neatly into the imagined zeitgeist of bohemian London in the early sixties, Potter sets out to distill this rich environment down to a single pearl of pre-feminist experience.
Potter has made a worthy, if hit and miss, career with tales of gritty femininity and Ginger & Rosa falls within the canon. Tight framing and claustrophobic interior shots allow us into the heart of the title character’s tumultuous and wayward relationship as the seek knowledge and approval from the adults around them. Robbie Ryan’s (Brick Lane) innovative, if slightly migraine inducing, camera work takes the story from the hedonistic, swirling fantasy of Ginger and Rosa’s carefree days into the dark, intense heart of their increasingly strained relationships.
Sadly, without the camera work, there would be little to rescue this otherwise pedestrian and melancholic movie. Certainly it is hard to fault the cast, Elle Fanning (Super 8) and relative newcomer Alice Englert perform exquisitely with a maturity which belies their inexperience, Annette Bening (Being Julia) is quite brilliant but woefully underused and Christina Hendricks (Drive) is quite enthralling as struggling mum Natalie. Despite strong performances, the characters have an earnest idealism yet lack credibility, Potter’s determination to keep within the intense maelstrom of these bourgeois bohemian’s lives leaves the majority of the audience devoid of the empathy needed to truly penetrate their story. The female characters are, despite their strengths, almost entirely victims and the male roles stereotypical and shallow.
The film would work better if Potter allowed us to explore one or two core issues, instead she sends the film skimming like a stone across a lake of thematic strands, briefly touching on the nature of friendship, the importance of freedom in adult relationships, the nature/nurture debate and the controlling power of the sexual act among many others. Even the core setting, the Cuban missile crisis and nascent protest movement, which should act as both as a social allegory for the film’s exploration of relationships as well as the hook for Ginger’s descent into fear and collapse, is an underdeveloped sideshow to an otherwise predictable tale of sexual misadventure, something of a disappointment for a movie originally titled ‘Bomb’.
Eventually and inexorably a movie which is well imagined and initially charming becomes increasingly pretentious and buttock achingly dull as it limps to an all too predictable and drawn out dénouement. None of the character’s story arcs reach full conclusion and the rather obvious and the slightly preachy lesson we learn from Rosa’s journey is slapped viciously across our faces in a violently patronising verbal assault which shames Potter’s reputation.
With a nice concept and rich social and thematic pool in which to swim, Ginger and Rosa should shine an original light on a Hollywood staple with a unique coming of age story. Initially sweet and engaging and lifted by a tour de force cast, it lacks direction and soon disappears into a rectum of dull middle class pretentiousness more cloying than the most emotional of teenage poetry.