“Ginger & Rosa” starts with newsreel footage of the atomic bomb blast and resulting devastation at Hiroshima that overshadows the entire story. Then we see the two girls born in adjoining hospital beds and watch as their mothers’ lives take different turns.
Anoushka (Jodhi May) has her husband desert her early on, leaving her to raise Rosa (Alice Englert, director Jane Campion’s daughter) on her own. Ginger’s mother, Natalie (“Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks), remains married, but her husband, Roland (an expert Alessandro Nivola), is a hard dog to keep under the porch.
Both idealist and hedonist, Roland went to prison as a conscientious objector during World War II and is now a writer and pacifist thinker who believes “our only life is the one we have now; that’s why we must seize it and live while we have the chance.” Though he clearly loves his daughter, he is often glib and sarcastic toward Natalie and seems to chafe at the whole notion of marriage.
Meanwhile, the inseparable Ginger and Rosa do classic teenage things together like flirt with boys, argue with their parents and iron their hair to straighten it. United by wonderful complicit looks, they are essentially trying out adult moves for size, figuring out the shape of their lives.
But while Rosa becomes obsessed with the opposite sex, Ginger gets increasingly serious, reading T.S. Eliot and Simone de Beauvoir and worrying that “we could all die tomorrow.” She starts to attend ban-the-bomb meetings and takes part in mass rallies held by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
These five central characters are all sharply written and well-acted, but the film’s peripheral characters don’t fare as well. Anoushka’s two gay friends, Mark (Timothy Spall) and Mark Two (Oliver Platt), seem as arbitrary as their names, and Annette Bening does as much as she can with the underwritten role of an American poet named Bella.
Also problematic, albeit inevitable, are some of the more melodramatic plot roads “Ginger & Rosa” heads down, but Fanning’s performance is so potent, she feels things so deeply, you barely notice. When Spall’s Mark responds to Ginger’s earnest adult seriousness with a sad “Can’t you be a girl for a moment or two longer?” we feel that regret quite as strongly as he does.
'GINGER & ROSA' 3 Stars