There's a wonderful moment in "Ginger & Rosa" when Ginger is asked by her godfather, Mark (Timothy Spall), "Can't you be a girl for a moment or two longer?"
The answer, of course, is no. The arc of adolescence bends toward adulthood, its trajectory inevitable, a truth poignantly captured in this remarkable, coming-of-age film.
Ginger (Elle Fannning) and Rosa (Alice Englert), both 17, have been friends since early childhood. The year is 1962. London. They share a bond as only two teenage girls can: they do everything together, skip school, iron their hair, smoke cigarettes, kiss boys. Yet their friendship, so carefully nurtured for almost two decades, is on the cusp of being tested by the exigencies of adolescent change. They struggle to understand not only their own emotions — Ginger is intellectually curious, encouraged by her father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a pacifist professor; and Rosa, in contrast, is melancholy, a risk-taker and sexually daring. Ginger has turned to jazz and T.S. Eliot while Rosa looks to religion.
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But above all, in this moment, they still look to one another as they puzzle out their parents' relationships — Ginger's parents are in turmoil, and Rosa's father has long ago left — as well as coping with the shroud of nuclear war as made manifest by the Cuban Missile Crisis, something that affects Ginger more deeply than Rosa.
"Ginger & Rosa" is, in the aggregate, a compelling and insightful character study, not only of the two girls, which is extraordinary, but of those adults who comprise their world. It's beautifully constructed and well-acted, led by Fanning's lovely, nuanced performance.
The story is, in the end, Ginger's story, told in the close third person. And because Ginger is 17, remarkably sensitive, she feels deeply all that is occurring, aware that not only may the world end, but that her own world is changing in ways she never anticipated.
Up to now, her reality has been shaped by her innocence, and the belief in the infallibility of her father, a principled pacifist, college professor and reluctant husband. But that will soon change, requiring that she view not only her father but her mother with new insight and understanding.
While the world's fate hangs in the balance, so does Ginger's world as she moves inexorably from childhood and its inherent narcissism to a new-found maturity. But to reach that moment, she must undergo a shift in her understanding of all that is taking place, macro and micro, a shift that comes to her with harsh truths attached.
The dénouement of "Ginger & Rosa," though a bit melodramatic, never seems jarring or contrived. Capturing the essence of adolescence can be a slippery slope. Writer/director Sally Potter gets it just right.
Note: "Ginger & Rosa" will not be screened this weekend because of the Ashland Independent Film Festival. It will, however, return next week, Tuesday through Thursday, after the festival has concluded.
The best that can be said about "The Host" is that it would have made a passable after-school special, though even the target demographic for this film — adolescent girls — might find the story lame. Perhaps it's a better read.
What is true is that Stephanie Meyer, author of the "Twilight" saga, has found that sweet spot where teenage girls live and turned it into solid gold. Romance, always chaste, filled with sexual tension, was the engine that moved her series forward, no matter that there was the problematic vampire dysfunction to overcome.
In "The Host," adapted from her novel, the story is again surreal. Instead of vampires, however, an alien species arrives on Earth and takes over the bodies of all the inhabitants, using them as hosts. The visitors, called "Souls," have eradicated all poverty and war and disease and follow the principles of peace. With the exception of tracking down those remaining pesky earthlings who would prefer not to be Souls and are in hiding.
Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), on the lam with her brother, Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), is captured and converted. Her character is so strong, and though her body is now inhabited by an entity called Wanderer, she is able to resist and becomes, literally, a split personality. We know this from the voiceover of Melanie talking to Wanderer.
The story is contrived, the set piece predictable, the narrative absent any real tension. It all seems pointless, even when romance is introduced. Melanie/Wanderer are attracted to different guys, and so things get complicated. "Kiss me; don't even think about it."
The world the Souls create should be utopian and highly desirable; but it seems more dystopian for reasons that are never made clear. No one explains why there's a resistance to begin with. Or why the Souls care.
Again, maybe read the book. And if you've read the book and look forward to seeing said story on the big screen, well, there might be something here that I'm missing.