Features & Columns

Ginger & Rosa

Cinequest opens strong with Sally Potter's 'Ginger & Rosa'
cinequest SIXTIES STYLE: Annette Bening (left) and Elle Fanning star in 'Ginger & Rosa.'

The opening night film at Cinequest is one of the strongest openers in the festival's 23-year history—for at least its first two acts. Set in 1962, Ginger & Rosa concerns a 17-year-old bred-in-the-bone English bohemian nicknamed Ginger (Elle Fanning). She lives in fear of nuclear war while carrying out a passionate friendship with a far more troubled, fatherless girl, Rosa (Alice Englert of Beautiful Creatures). Meanwhile, the '60s start to ferment and become intoxicating.

Sally Potter's skill in directing red-headed exotics goes back to her pioneering film Orlando. If there's a blonde state of mind you can get onscreen (in the languidness of The Virgin Suicides, say), it's matched in redness here. The color-correcting turns up the volume to 11 on Fanning's dyed hair—"Flame on!" as Johnny Storm always said in the comic books.

This "incardination," like Ginger's actual birth name, would be wretched poetic excess if it weren't for one thing. Fanning's face is the kind of instrument that comes along in the movies about once a decade, if that. This kind of movie about the friendship of girls is rare enough, and Fanning is getting phenomenal. The aura of young-girl self-absorption is almost ravishing, and the frame of mind is authentic to the crusading teenager (wise children meet dumb helpless adults)—right up to the last half hour, where the feminist lessons of the '70s collide (15 years or so too early) with the free love of the '60s. The agent of the collision is the 100 percent straw man of the film's argument: Ginger's straying dad (Alessandro Nivola), a hero of the conscientious-objection movement.

Robbie Ryan (of the recent Wuthering Heights) makes the hip squalor luminous. But the table talk among adults doesn't sound nearly rarefied enough, though the table in question is lined with Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt, both very good as a long-time couple, and Annette Bening as what they used to call a bluestocking.

Ginger & Rosa's key disappointment is a sadly miscast Christina Hendricks as Ginger's mom, Natalie. Hendricks' Joanie playing "C'est Magnifique" on her accordion on Mad Men was pretty much the greatest thing ever seen on TV. She reprises on squeezebox in a different mood, with a few lonely bars of the Billie Holiday signature tune "Lover Man" by the fireplace. That's pretty, but her trouble is accent-coaching or lack of the same. When the movie has to hang on Natalie's particular sorrow, it ultimately collapses from the weight of its own sense of virtue.