On time for the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, Sally Potter directs the story of two teenage girls whose world is standing still and being blown apart in parallel with what could happen with the A-bomb threatening the world.
“We had a dream that we’d always be best friends” writes Ginger (Elle Fanning) in the poem closing the movie (and opening the trailer). Seventeen-year-old Ginger and Rosa (Alice Englert) were born together, grew up together without strong father figures, go to the same school and are convinced they want the same things until Khrushchev threatens to set up Soviet missiles in Cuba. Theirs is a friendship born of background similarities and the force of habits, a symbiotic friendship where you spend so much time together you start forgetting about the differences inherent to personality, the kind of friendship you cling to during that weird end of teenagehood stage of being neither a child, nor an adult.
The first half of the movie sets the strength of Ginger and Rosa’s relationship through always-matching clothes: green wool jumpers and khaki trousers to go to the seaside, off-white turtle neck sweaters for anti-nuclear marches, a symphony of duffle coats and same length, unkempt hair. Identical outfits are the background for traditional coming-of-age movie tropes: bathing in jeans to shrink them, smoking your first cigarette and kissing your first boy wearing a school uniform.
With radio news unraveling the 13 days of the Crisis, cracks start appearing between the two teenagers. Ginger’s father Roland (Alessandro Nivola) and his ideals of free-will and self-determinism act as a catalyst. While Ginger, motivated by fear and the betrayal of the budding affair between Roland and Rosa, focuses on saving the world and her ambition to become a poet, Rosa decides to follow Girl magazine’s advice not to be too serious if you want boys to like you. Identical clothes aren’t enough to mask differences anymore.
The first outward sign of disagreement appears when Rosa tries on an oversize black shirt paired with her shrunken jeans, an outfit which wouldn’t be out of place on the streets of London nowadays. “The whole world could be blown to pieces any minute” fears Ginger, but it’s her little world which is about to be torn apart.
From then on, Rosa’s palette turns away from the earthy tones worn during her time with Ginger, her time of innocence, adopting instead an all-black, body-con silhouette closer to the femme fatale and grown-up she wants to be. Closer too to the outfit Ginger’s mum Natalie (Christina Hendricks) wears around her estranged husband Roland. Eighteen years before, Natalie had fallen for Roland’s wounded artist ways, a courtship resulting in Ginger and years of unrequited love and unhappiness. The fashion and hair styling similarities between the two women don’t bode well for Rosa’s future with Roland.