Alice Englert, left, and Elle Fanning play Cold War-era best friends. (Nicola Dove)
There's an ache at the center of "Ginger & Rosa" that transcends time and place.
It's the ache of mortality, of unsureness about the future and discomfort in the present. It's a pain with no sure cure and a question with no solid answer. And it comes across on the face of the gifted young actress Elle Fanning with a clarity that's purely brutal.
Fanning plays Ginger, who was born alongside her best friend, Rosa (Alice Englert), in a British hospital during World War II. Now she's a teen in the '60s just as the Cuban missile crisis threatens to wipe out all mankind. Neither Ginger nor Rosa feel like being wiped out, so they join up with protesters hoping to ban the bomb.
Ginger's left leanings come naturally. Her father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola, fine in a thankless role), is a pacifist professor who went to prison instead of war. Her mother (Christina Hendricks) was a painter before she became a mom. And her godfathers (Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt) are a gay couple.
Ginger is openly rebellious, but Rosa is potentially unbalanced. When the womanizing Roland leaves his family, Ginger follows him to his new home. So does Rosa, but she's not looking for a father, she's looking for love.
The devoutly free-thinking Ginger suddenly finds herself searching for a moral compass. Her best friend is becoming a stranger, the world is edging ever closer to nuclear holocaust, and life seems to be over before it's begun.
Fanning, so ethereal yet fragile in "Somewhere" and so instinctive in "Super 8," was actually younger than her character while filming this, but she brings so much combined innocence and authority to the role, it's never noticeable. The future waits for Ginger, and it has to get better. Doesn't it?
'Ginger & Rosa'
Rated PG-13 for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices — sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language
Running time: 90 minutes