There's a certain kind of cinematic family that tends to make the same child-rearing mistakes. Conservative, hidebound and resistant to change, they come in many guises -- Chinese immigrants in "The Joy Luck Club," aspirational WASPs in "The Graduate" -- but they almost always end up driving their offspring as far from the flock as possible. The moral: Children must find their own way.
Sally Potter's "Ginger & Rosa" is a cautionary tale about a very different family: Liberal, secular, forward-thinking intellectuals. These parents are the opposite of, say, the religious fanatics of "Footloose." The result, however, is its own kind of disaster.
Set in the ash-gray London of 1962, "Ginger & Rosa" focuses on red-haired Ginger (Elle Fanning), a teenage poet and budding anti-nuclear activist. She idolizes her father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a handsome leftist writer, though less so her unhappy mother, Nat (Christina Hendricks). Ginger, a free agent, roams around with her best mate, Rosa (Alice Englert, "Beautiful Creatures"), a rebellious brunette. Rosa lacks Bohemian credentials but is sophisticated in other ways.
As Rosa begins an inappropriate sexual relationship, Ginger is horrified to find that it becomes an open secret in a circle of adults too progressive to condemn it. Ginger takes sanctuary with her gay godfathers (Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt) and their thoughtful American friend Bella (Annette Bening), but modernist poetry and Bertrand Russell are no replacement for parental guidance. While Ginger channels her growing hysteria into protest marches, an emotional bomb ticks inside her.
"Ginger & Rosa" is an absolutely devastating movie, and every performance is pitch-perfect, particularly Fanning's fragile, tremulous Ginger. Beautifully directed and insightfully written by Potter ("Orlando"), herself the product of a radical upbringing, it's a look at family dysfunction from a fresh and surprising angle.
PLOT In 1962, two London teens deal with Cold War anxiety and broken homes in very different ways. RATING PG-13 (sexual themes)
CAST Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks
PLAYING AT Malverne Cinema & Art Center, Manhasset Cinemas and Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington
BOTTOM LINE A hugely rewarding movie, filled with fine performances and fresh insights into class, culture, politics and the pangs of adolescence.