Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) have been best friends practically since birth, having been born to their mothers who were also best friends at the same time in the same hospital ward in 1945. Now, having grown up together, it is 1962 and they are both sixteen years old, as inseperable as ever though the real world is encroaching on their formerly close childhood as they begin to wonder about the wider society and their places in it. Ginger is considering artistic pursuits like her mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks), though it is poetry which is her passion, while Rosa turns to romance as her goal...
The period of the Cuban Missile Crisis has proved one which filmmakers and other creative types have returned to time and again, but with Ginger & Rosa writer and director Sally Potter was taking a more British view of the event and how it affected the lives of the most impressionable citizens who in this case would be the teenagers she concentrated on here, with the two girls becoming wrapped up in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Though the effect of this consciousness-raising has very different effects on them both, finally driving them apart as they took alternative paths; that said, they were still linked very strongly, just not in the manner they would have been most happy with.
Certainly poor Ginger, who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, is unhappy with the way things develop, in a performance from Elle Fanning which became the heart of the piece, and just about saved it from a rather uneasy conservatism which was surprising coming from this director. Fanning managed a very creditable English accent, and if she was called upon to spend increasing amounts of her scenes in tears then at least that suited the unravelling mental state of Ginger, though her hectoring qualities were rather less easy to take. Before long her obsession with the end of the world in nuclear armageddon grows wearing, especially as it appears to be the sole lens she can see her environment through.
That said, Potter made sure that we could well understand Ginger's anxieties and see that she really needed someone to offer her a sense of perspective which was lacking in those around her: if anything, they inadvertently encourage the girl in her worries. Her relationship with her mother, who abandoned her promising painting career to bring up her daughter, grows fraught with tensions because Ginger thinks she is pushing her beloved, activist father Roland (Alessandro Nivola) away from their unstable family unit when it's actually he who is the problem, and funnily enough his character proves a problem for the overall plotline and themes of the film into the bargain.
Basically everyone who has principles here is shown up as a sham of a human being, either because those ideals make them a hypocrite in their day to day lives (as in the case of Roland) or cannot be sustained in the face of the wider community, whether that be family and friends or the global one (Ginger). Standing up for anything here leads to heartache or exposure of your essential failings, which does make for a tone which may flirt with the attractiveness of rebelling against a status quo that can bring the world to the brink of annihilation but is more caught up in showing that any noble notions of saving the population of Planet Earth are strictly for the kids who don't know any better, and they will have that youthful optimism for positive change knocked out of them soon enough. It's a dispiriting and frankly humourless take on trying to do the best when your personality flaws will always scupper such lofty standards, a very twenty-first century viewpoint on past integrities.