PG-13 (mature material involving teen choices -- sexuality, drinking, smoking, strong language); 100 min.
It's 1962 in London, and 17-year-old old Rosa worries about finding true love, "the kind that lasts forever." Her friend Ginger, however, has weightier concerns. An empathetic and aware film, Ginger & Rosa is several striking things all at once. It's an adult look at the teenage years, a noteworthy change of pace for writer-director Sally Potter and, most of all, the showcase for a performance by Elle Fanning as Ginger that is little short of phenomenal.
Ginger & Rosa starts with newsreel footage of the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima that overshadows the story. Then we see the 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 (Christina Hendricks), remains married, but her husband, Roland (an expert Alessandro Nivola), is a hard dog to keep under the porch.
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. 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." 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.
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-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times