Review: Elle Fanning carries visceral 'Ginger & Rosa'

Alice Englert, left, and Elle Fanning star in “Ginger & Rosa.”

Photo by Nicola Dove

Alice Englert, left, and Elle Fanning star in “Ginger & Rosa.”

London, 1962. Two teenage girls - Ginger and Rosa ­- are inseparable; they play truant together, discuss religion, politics and hairstyles, and dream of lives ...

Rating: PG-13 for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices - sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language

Length: 89 minutes

Released: March 15, 2013 Limited

Cast: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Annette Bening

Director: Sally Potter

Writer: Sally Potter

More info and showtimes »

“Ginger & Rosa” is a trivia lover’s dream. It’s a British movie in which American actors play five of the eight main characters. It features a gifted child star and a gifted former child star. It boasts three Screen Actors Guild Award winners and one cousin of Princess Diana. Several members of the cast have famous relatives in the film industry.

But the impressive thing is that not one of those factoids interrupts the absorbing story or detracts from the brilliant acting of the film.

“Ginger & Rosa” is easily writer-director Sally Potter’s most accessible and appealing film since her 1992 breakout, “Orlando.” It isn’t a feel-good piece; there’s enough to disturb most viewers. But Potter constructs a compelling emotional story against a vivid backdrop that should strike a chord with today’s audiences.

The film opens with scenes from Hiroshima in 1945, reminding viewers of the destructive power of nuclear weapons (hello, North Korea). That same year, Natalie (Christina Hendricks) and Anoushka (Jodhi May) are side by side in a London hospital, giving birth to daughters as their spouses wait in a hall.

The two girls grow up together, best friends who are closer than sisters. They are inseparable, but they are not identical.

Teenage Ginger (Elle Fanning) is obsessed with the troubling news of 1962 — reports of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba and nations stockpiling nuclear arms in response. She expresses her concerns to her parents, Natalie and Roland (Alessandro Nivola). Roland, a writer who was a conscientious objector during World War II, supports her desire to protest the bomb and encourages “autonomous thinking” on her part. Natalie, who ditched art to be a wife and mother, has worries closer to home.

Rosa (Alice Englert), at odds with mom Anoushka since her father walked out, listens to Ginger’s spiels of gloom and doom but doesn’t really understand them. She believes war is “in God’s hands,” though she goes with Ginger to Citizens for Nuclear Disarmament meetings. Rosa is focused on her budding sexuality, seeking out encounters with boys and bringing Ginger up to speed.

There are two ways Potter could have gone with this coming-of-age story, and she chooses the less hackneyed and more unsettling one. Suffice to say, the drama proliferates with a grievous betrayal made poignant by the audience’s sympathies for all the characters.

In addition to the girls and their parents, Potter offers an alternative family — Ginger’s godfather, Mark (Timothy Spall), his partner, Mark Two (Oliver Platt), and their activist friend Bella (Annette Bening). They seem somewhat contrived — an all-knowing Greek chorus of liberalism and wisdom — but the actors dismiss the awkwardness of their inclusion with fine performances.

That said, this is Fanning’s movie, the natural result of the roles she’s been playing for more than a decade. She was 13 during filming, but she shows the skill and depth of a mature actor. Her ability to reveal Ginger’s inner thoughts is uncanny.

Englert (“Beautiful Creatures”), daughter of director Jane Campion, shows talent as well as beauty. Hendricks succeeds in a somewhat undercooked role, while Nivola is fantastic in one of the most complicated parts of his career.

Potter makes the tale visceral and relevant. “Ginger & Rosa” is well worth watching.

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