Strik­ing a blow for girl­dom

No-guff Hit Girl led year’s lineup of pow­er­ful young fe­male char­ac­ters

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS&STYLE - BY ANN HOR­NA­DAY

Say this much for movies in 2010: It was a pretty good year to be a girl.

It seems like a dim me­mory now that, soon af­ter the year be­gan, its first po­ten­tial cin­e­matic scan­dal be­gan brew­ing. The trailer for the comic-book ac­tion movie “ Kick-Ass” sur­faced, fea­tur­ing a pint­size, foul-mouthed lit­tle lady namedHit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) with a pen­chant for mow­ing down guys twice her size with dou­ble-fisted firearms while spew­ing pro­gres­sively more shock­ing ep­i­thets.

As some­one who be­gan her jour­nal­is­tic ca­reer at Ms. mag­a­zine, I had all my an­ten­nae up when I at­tended the pre­view, my pen and note­book at the ready to record any num­ber of an­tic­i­pated out­rages andin­stances of anti-fem­i­nist back­slid­ing. Imag­ine my sur­prise when “Kick-Ass” turned out to be not only smart and cheek­ily en­ter­tain­ing, but a ve­hi­cle for one of the most sub­ver­sively fem­i­nist hero­ines in re­cent years.

With her pur­ple hair, black face mask and prim plaid skirt, Hit Girl wasn’t just a fe­male ver­sion of the hack­neyed male trope of psy­cho­pathic killer, as I feared. In­stead, as writ­ten by comic-book au­thors Mark Mil­lar and John Romita, and brought to the screen by Jane Gold­man andMatthewVaughn, she emerged as a char­ac­ter of com­plex psy­cho­log­i­cal drives, spurred to vi­o­lence not out of mind­less ag­gres­sion but canny self-preser­va­tion.

As the only daugh­ter of a dad who ad­mit­tedly took over­pro­tec­tive­ness to an ex­treme, Hit Girl

pre­sented view­ers with the brac­ing im­age of an ado­les­cent fe­male fully ca­pa­ble of tak­ing care of her­self and her loved ones, even within the out­ra­geously ex­ag­ger­ated car­toon world that “Kick-Ass” imag­ined. Never a huge fan of foul lan­guage or graphic vi­o­lence, I found­my­self cel­e­brat­ing Hit Girl as a gen­uine step for­ward within a medium where the self-re­liance, swash­buck­ling ad­ven­ture and swag­ger have his­tor­i­cally been re­served for the guys.

And Hit Girl served as a harbinger of equally cheer­ing things to come. Think of the top movies this year: Sure, we had “ Eclipse,” the lat­est in­stall­ment of the “ Twi­light” saga that grat­i­fy­ingly re­turned the fran­chise to its roots af­ter the turgid “ New Moon” mis­fire. But Bella Swan (Kris­ten Ste­wart) stillseemed­in­fu­ri­at­ingly pas­sive as her would-be lovers, vam­pire Ed­ward and were­wolf Ja­cob, en­gaged in a far more in­ter­est­ing bat­tle for her af­fec­tions. (If only Bella could see “ Let Me In”: The re­make of the Swedish horror movie “ Let the Right One In” fea­tured “Kick­Ass’s” Moretz, this time as a self-as­sured, phys­i­cally in­vin­ci­ble young vam­pire who comes to the aid of a bul­lied school­boy.)

Afar­moreen­cour­ag­ing book-fran­chise in­stall­ment came by way of watch­ing Hermione come into her own in “Harry Pot­ter and the Deathly Hal­lows.” In the first part of the last chap­ter of the se­ries, the now-teenaged school­mate of Harry andRon­re­peat­edly saved the­day through cool think­ing and an ad­mit­tedly su­per­cool hand­bag.

But the real strength of Hermione — of­ten oth­er­wise rel­e­gated to the sup­port­ive shad­ows — wasn’t to be found in showy scenes of magic-mak­ing, but in the film’s far qui­eter and most mean­ing­ful mo­ments: An early shot of Hermione “oblivi­at­ing” her par­ents’ mem­o­ries of her, to pro­tect them from the evil Volde­mort, car­ried un­ex­pected emo­tional force, as did a se­quence in which she word­lessly con­jured a sim­ple bou­quet to adorn Harry’s par­ents’ grave. As em­bod­ied by the lean, solemn Emma Wat­son, Hermione’s get-on-with-it con­fi­dence­and strength be­came the best rea­son not just to see “Deathly Hal­lows” but to hang around for the sec­ond, fi­nal in­stall­ment next sum­mer.

If 2010 had a gen­uine sur­prise hit, it was Tim Bur­ton’s “ Alice in Won­der­land.” Part of the film’s pop­u­lar­ity no doubt had to do with Johnny Depp’s drawas the­Mad Hat­ter, and by its 3-D bells and whis­tles. But I’d like to think much of the ap­peal had to do with Mia Wasikowska’s gutsy girl power as Alice, de­picted as a sturdy, ca­pa­ble 19-year-old. Thanks to Wasikowska’s frank, self-as­sured per­for­mance, Alice found respite from wide-eyed, pinafored child­ish­ness to be­come a young adult forg­ing a path of ad­ven­ture and, in the case of the cli­mac­tic fight scene, some old-fash­ioned (if re­vi­sion­ist) armor-clad hero­ism.

As a damsel who be­comes her own white knight, Wasikowska’s Alice would no doubt have heartily ap­proved of Ra­pun­zel in thean­i­mat­ed­com­edy“ Tangled,” where­inGrimm’s long-tressed princess as of­ten as not res­cued the bandit Flynn Ry­der.

But teenaged hero­ines weren’t only the re­mit of fan­tasy: In An­drea Arnold’s Brit­teen ish re­al­ist drama “ Fish Tank,” new­comer Katie Jarvis de­liv­ered an al­ter­nately fe­ro­cious and frag­ile turn as 15-year-old Mia, who nav­i­gates poverty, a dif­fi­cult mother and the ap­pear­ance of a would-be fa­ther fig­ure to, if not tri­umph, then at least sur­vive.

In De­braGranik’s “ Win­ter’s Bone,” Jen­nifer Lawrence brought breath­tak­ing phys­i­cal pres­ence and quiet for­ti­tude to Ree, a17-year-old girlover­com­ingherown im­pov­er­ished, dys­func­tional cir­cum­stances as she searches for her dad in the meth labs and back­woods of theMis­souri Ozarks.

Af­ter these har­row­ing por­traits of young women forced to evince strength be­yond their years, the de­light­ful com­edy “ Easy A” ar­rived like a breath of breezy, bawdy air, thanks in large part to Emma Stone’s brave and know­ing portrayal of Olive, as­mart, feistyHesterPryn­nefor the Face­book gen­er­a­tion. (It bears not­ing that the most vis­i­ble young hero­ines of 2010 were white, al­though they rep­re­sented a wave be­gun last year with the in­domitable Tiana and Pre­cious Jones, of “ The Princess and the Frog” and “ Pre­cious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sap­phire.” Still, one won­ders what the “ Karate Kid” re­boot might have looked like with hair­whip­ping Wil­low Smith in the lead rather than her brother Jaden.)

It might have tak­enHit Girl, Hermione, Alice, Ra­pun­zel, Mia, Ree and Olive in their con­sid­er­able com­bined force to save poor Nina in “Black Swan,” in whichNatalie Port­man de­liv­ered a breathy, bizarrely bravura turn as a bal­le­rina on the brink of star­dom and psy­chotic self-de­struc­tion. But the frag­ile, fa­tally messed-up Nina wound up be­ing an aber­ra­tion in a movie sea­son that ended with two wildly dif­fer­ent but equally strong young fe­male pro­tag­o­nists: Hailee Ste­in­feld’s im­pas­sioned, im­pla­ca­ble Mat­tie Ross, who formed the res­o­lute spine and driv­ing moral force of the Coen broth­ers’ “ True Grit,” and Elle Fan­ning’s CleoMarco in “Some­where,” in which Stephen Dorff ’s narcissistic movie star turns his life around sim­ply by see­ing the world through his clear-eyed, downto-earth 11-year-old daugh­ter.

Why now? The suc­cess of “Twi­light” helped showHol­ly­wood that young women wield con­sid­er­able force at the box of­fice, so stu­dios have un­der­stand­ably started to pay at­ten­tion. Ac­tresses like An­gelina Jolie (“ Salt,” “ Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) and Milla Jovovich (“ Res­i­dent Evil”) have­proven­that­ac­tion isn’t just the sole purview of Y chro­mo­somes. And we may be see­ing a gen­er­a­tional shift whereby writ­ers and di­rec­tors raised with an ex­pec­ta­tion of gen­der equal­ity bring that sen­si­bil­ity to their film­mak­ing.

Or, 2010may have just been an anom­aly. Af­ter all, most of the year’s best movies for adults were an­chored by men: “ In­cep­tion,” “ The King’s Speech,” “ The So­cial Net­work,” “ The Fighter,” “127 Hours.” It re­mains to be seen whether the teen and ’ tween hero­ines of to­day give rise to more brave, com­pli­cated, pow­er­ful, au­tonomous­grow­nanalogs in the fu­ture. The world may end in fire or ice — but it just might be saved byHit Girl and her sis­ters.

DAN SMITH

KNUCKLE SANDWICH: Chloe GraceMoretz as the hero­ineHit Girl in “Kick-Ass.”

DIS­NEY EN­TER­PRISES

GUTSY: Mi­aWasikowska plays a grown-up, self-as­sured ti­tle char­ac­ter in “Alice in­Won­der­land.”

The suc­cess of “Twi­light” helped show Hollywood that young women wield con­sid­er­able force at the box of­fice, so stu­dios have un­der­stand­ably started to pay at­ten­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

HEROIC: Ra­pun­zel’s story is up­dated in “ Tangled.”

WIL­SON WEBB

RES­O­LUTE: Hailee Ste­in­feld is driv­ing force in “ True Grit.”

ADAM TAY­LOR/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

FEISTY: Emma Stone is no shyHester Prynne in “Easy A.”

LION­S­GATE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

STRONG: Jen­nifer Lawrence over­comes in “Win­ter’s Bone.”

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