The exploration of adolescent female relationships is a topic rife with jealousies and complexities. In Sally Potter’s most recent film, Ginger & Rosa, two best friends–obviously named Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert)–are born side by side as their mothers, Natalie (Christina Hendricks, who seems to relish roles that take place in the 60s after finding her niche in Mad Men), and Anoushka (Jodhi May) reach out to each other to help numb the pain in a London delivery room in 1945. As the two grow up together, it becomes evident that Rosa is the more rebellious of the two, especially after her father leaves her and Anoushka to their own devices.
As the film flashes forward to 1962, it is clear that the tumultuousness of 1945 is still present in a similarly overt manner. With the threat of nuclear destruction and the Cuban Missile Crisis a constant news item, Ginger and Rosa begin to take more of an interest in joining an activist group and less of an interest in going to school. When they’re not praying or congregating, Ginger follows Rosa’s suit in drinking and having casual sex. It is at this point in the story that the film starts to shift toward something of a mash-up of An Education and Me Without You. Ginger embodies a similar character to Carey Mulligan’s Jenny Mellor in terms of transforming from a naive, innocent girl to quickly being forced to mature and adapt to the increasingly perverse mores of the early 1960s. Her similarity to Michelle Williams’ Holly in Me Without You lies in the jealous relationship she develops with Rosa after she starts sleeping with her father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola)–who only recently separated from Ginger’s mother.
Ginger is forced to stifle everything she feels about her best friend and her father’s tryst, channeling every emotion into feeling as though the world will end at any second because of a hydrogen bomb. She finds affinity with her family friends, Mark (Timothy Spall), Mark II (Oliver Platt) and Bella (Annette Bening, in a somewhat needless role). She also grows closer to the leader of the nuclear disarmament group, turning to him for comfort and validation of her self-esteem. Although she attempts to be okay with Rosa and Roland’s blatant affection for one another, it only hurts and disgusts her, leading her to weep openly at the dinner table one night after she helps Rosa make a Bolognese pasta for Roland.
Unable to bear it any longer, Ginger tries to go back to her mother’s house (who she had previously spurned) to make an attempt at procuring a less emotionally fucked up living situation. Instead of welcoming her, however, Natalie notes that she’s turned Ginger’s room into a place for her to paint and questions why she would want to leave Roland’s in the first place after wanting so badly to escape Natalie’s boringness. Not wanting to prove her mother right about Roland, Ginger changes her mind and says that everything’s great and that it’s really “interesting” to live with Roland. Before returning home late to Roland’s, Ginger sits in an abandoned junkyard alone in what is one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching moments in the film. While sleeping in her bed that night, Roland awakens her with a plate of meatballs to try to reassure her of the normalness of the situation he’s in with Rosa–though also mentions that she shouldn’t say anything about it to Natalie.
As the tension between Ginger and Rosa mounts, Ginger insists that Rosa is a fool to believe that her father won’t leave her the second he deems her too old. It is then that Rosa confesses that she’s pregnant with Roland’s child. The subsequent denouement is riveting to watch as we are left with a conclusion that is, much like the political upheaval of 1962 itself, largely unresolved. All that Ginger can say for certain is, “Despite the horror and sorrow, I want us all to live.”