Coming of age – and fast – in an English seaside town at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Ginger (Fanning) has her feet planted on both sides of that inevitable divide between childhood and adulthood. (“Can’t you be a girl for a moment or two longer?” a kindly uncle asks her.) When her artistic, politically conscious parents separate, Ginger shuttles her teddy bears between houses while trying on eyeliner and hitchhiking with her best friend, Rosa (Englert). Both girls are on the cusp of something big: Ginger is a nascent poet drawn to ban-the-bomb protests, while Rosa experiments with adult sexuality, first with fumbling boys, then, more dangerously, with Ginger’s freethinking, pacifist father, Roland (Nivola).
Ginger and Rosa’s lives have been intertwined since their births – their mothers shared labor pains in adjacent hospital beds – and at first, the movie seems poised to explore female intimacy set against historical tumult (much like Sandra Goldbacher’s underrated Me Without You, also about untended daughters stumbling toward adulthood in politically agitated times). Disappointingly, writer/director Sally Potter (Orlando, Yes) abruptly drops “and Rosa” as a subject of empathy or identification; Rosa exists to twist the plot, and the mannered adult characterizations feel just as inorganic. But Fanning – a startlingly alert and microemotive young actress – breathes real feeling into the part, while the jazz soundtrack (John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sidney Bechet) rouses this sensitive film from its drowsier inclinations.