Do you remember childhood gurlfriends? Those hours of closeness, innocence, of talking and not talking, of wondering aloud and of escaping into your own minds, together? Holding hands, trading clothes, taking risks, making adventures. Moments of discovery, of knowing without speaking. Intimacy free of sexuality but at the same time teeming with its potential.
Do you remember the shift? The moment her sexuality grew beyond yours, when loyalties changed. Jealousy – not the kind of borne of want but the kind borne of loss. Her innocence was lost in a good way. She was lost to you in the worst way. Worse yet, you were still lost in your own mind, in the fear of change and without that closeness of an other who completes you. The growing sense of impending danger. You, growing, with a sense of impending explosion.
Ginger & Rosa is a brilliant tale of young gurls coming of age in 1960s London, surrounded by revolution but lacking a full understanding of the forces that define their world. The film delves into subjects of sexuality, freedom, family and self-determination. Some explorations seem a bit contrived, but in the sense that teenagers tend to see the world through a veil of weighty symbolism, the film was successful in building the sense of melodramatic heaviness emblematic of how one might feel in a similar situation.
Ginger is beautifully constructed and delivered. Fanning’s facial-acting is impressive, especially when one considers that the actress was only 13. Nuances of emotion and thought are conveyed effortlessly with a realism that places her firmly among the ranks of her peers. Newcomer Alice Englert has a bit further to go. She portrays the seductive and tortured Rosa well, but lacks depth.
The feminist references in the film are subtle. Ginger wonders aloud if Simone de Beauvoir has a bubbly personality. Ginger and Rosa both struggle to reconcile their goals with their mothers’ domesticity; Rosa resents her mother’s attempts to draw her into domestic life. Ginger feels resented by her mother, who gave up painting when she became pregnant. Ginger’s guilt colors her interactions with all women in her life. Both gurls fear falling into their mothers’ unhappiness.
Another subject explored in this film is the heterogeneity of activism. The concern of the film’s activist characters is preventing a nuclear war, but each interprets this mission differently. Roland – more of an activist mentor to Ginger than a good father – at first appears inspirationally committed to his cause, having served time in jail as a conscientious objector. However, his activism is his singular defining characteristic, rendering him utterly one-dimensional. His life is rooted so fully in his cause that his actions become unambiguously self-serving. He embodies the sensationalism (and sexism) that can befall social movements who lose sight of the big picture. His foil is the trio of Mark, Mark 2 and Bella, who grasp the gravity of the conflict but are more grounded.
The film covers a range of other heavy topics from religion to sexuality. At times, the in-your-face statement-making pulls the viewer out of the illusion, giving the film a lengthy feel. While raw awkwardness and emotion can sometimes hold us inside a film, hanging, waiting for a resolution or diversion, many moments in Ginger & Rosa held this potential but did not follow through. This was magnified by the film’s lack of a through-composed programmatic score.
Still, the film succeeds better than most in building the multidimensional nature of coming-of-age stories. The relationship between Ginger and Rosa is complex. Growing up in the lower spaces of the British working class, their fates are tied (together and to the confines of class) and yet divergent, as no two experience can remain identical forever. When we enter the cross-section of their world, Ginger is nearing an existential crisis. She seeks a sense of self as well as a sense of security. The fear instilled in her by her surroundings begin to cripple her, as she sees no point in life full of uncertainty marred by inaction. Simultaneously, her relationship with Rosa deteriorates as their priorities diverge. Ginger, who seems to look up to Rosa, begins to resent her when she pursues a controversial romance instead of investing herself in the future. The foundation of Ginger’s innocence is cracked by a growing understanding of the seismic nature of the world. She is a teenager in flux, the bastion of the coming-of-age flick, but her struggle is more multidimensional than her cross-genre fictional peers.
This is a film for anyone who has ever struggled to come to terms with the distress of a world wracked with conflict. Despite its flaws, Ginger & Rosa is a aesthetically well-done, smart, deep exploration of what it means to be young, female, scared and determined to survive.