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Heroine chic

Hollywood cashes in on girl power
By PETER KEOUGH  |  April 12, 2010

1004_kickass_main
NO SUGAR, ALL SPICE: Hit-Girl kicks ’90s-era Girl Power up a notch in the new movie Kick-Ass.

One of the more satisfying moments in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) occurs when 13-year-old Hermione (Emma Watson) unloads a right hook that staggers the villainous Malfoy. “That felt good,” she says, pleased with herself. “Not good,” offers Ron (Rupert Grint). “Brilliant!”

Six years later, Hermione’s haymaker has escalated into Kick-Ass (opens April 16), Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the Mark Millar comic book about a teenage boy who suits up to be the inept superhero of the title, but whose real star is Hit-Girl, an 11-year-old lethal weapon played by Chloë Moretz. Hit-Girl has taken Hermione’s tentative punch and transformed it into graphic carnage. She demolishes dozens of bad guys with feet, fists, edged weapons, and a variety of firearms. Even more shocking is her language: “Okay, you cunts,” she announces to a lobby full of bad guys, “let’s see what you got now.” Then she opens fire.

Some moral-watchdog types have been scandalized, while most critics have been exhilarated. It was a big hit at the South by Southwest Film Festival and has gotten rave reviews in Britain, where it opened last month. And it’s not the only recent example of girls behaving badly on screen.

This Friday marks the opening of The Runaways, a biopic of the teen girl group from the ’70s that features a reinvented Dakota Fanning playing lead singer Cherie Currie (“Bardot in a trailer park!” is her tagline) and Twilight girl Kristen Stewart as the legendary Joan Jett. They’re 15 and full of fury. “This isn’t women’s lib,” says their agent, “this is women’s libido!” That sexuality explodes in their music, and they straddle the fine line between empowerment and exploitation.

True, there probably won’t be many kids dressed up as Joan Jett this Halloween. But those going as the traditional princess might be packing a sword along with their tiara after seeing Prince of Persia, a Disney fantasy in which the title regent is upstaged by a swashbuckling female sidekick. There might be some vampire costumes, too, after Moretz returns as the ageless adolescent revenant in Let Me In, Matt Reeves’s remake of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (2008). Or punk getups imitating the feisty female sleuth in the Swedish thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2008), which David Fincher will be remaking in English with Carey Mulligan, the Oscar-nominated actress from An Education, in the title role.

That’s a lot of wild and crazy underage girls on the screen at one time — why the sudden estrogen explosion? In recent months, “chick flicks” such as Valentine’s Day, Dear John, and others — vapid rom-coms and tearjerkers — have been surprise hits thanks to a previously untapped female demographic. Some complacent studios might be satisfied thinking such pabulum is all that women want. But the more farseeing and ambitious among them realize that girls just want to have the same kind of fun as boys do.

That especially goes for those in middle and high school, kids who have to put up with peer pressure, bullying, and sometimes the threat of male violence. They might be getting tired of the same-old submissive role models. Maybe what they really crave is something with a little more edge and potency.

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