Photo Credit: Dan Smith/Lionsgate
The action-comedy Kick-Ass doesn't hit theaters until April 16, but it's already creating controversy (which a recent Moviefone.com article pointed out) about its portrayal of a pre-pubescent girl as a potty-mouthed serial-avenger called Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz).
In the spirit of full confession, I saw the film early and took my 14-year-old son. We loved Kick-Ass. It was hilarious and smart and, yes, bloody. It was better seeing it with him, because despite its R-rating, this movie is aimed squarely at teen testosterone. And because it's about a teen who dons a homemade superhero costume to both fight the bullies that are tormenting him in his town's alleyways and protect similar weaklings, it delivers a message that you don't need superpowers, just a spine, to fight back. As a mother of a kid who's been bullied both covertly and overtly, this was a message not to be missed.
Still, I didn't take my 10-year-old daughter with us. I had been forewarned that the movie was rated R for a reason. The most controversial element is that Moretz's 11-year-old Hit-Girl doesn't just utter garden-variety curse words.This mini-skirted crusader who has yet to develop breasts says "c-ck" and "c-nt." She actually drops the c-bomb in one of the Kick-Ass trailers. And she violently kills a handful of armed and nasty drug dealers in a small apartment in rapid succession while rescuing the less able Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson).
While, as an adult, I enjoyed the movie, I could recognize that this pre-teen vigilante was not the fourth Powerpuff Girl. The curse words she spoke so easily made me wince. And while the violence was strictly comic book, this little girl did kill -- and kill again -- even if it was for a just cause. But she's not intended as a role model. Still, Moretz is a real child, now 13, but younger during production.
That puts Moretz in the league of a series of borderline portrayals: Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby and Dakota Fanning in the controversial indie Hounddog. Clearly, none of these movies was intended for a young audience. Yet the underlying question is always the same: Does the movie exploit the child? In Hounddog's violent yet eroticized rape scene, I objected and found the film unwatchable. I felt Fanning should not be put in that position; that it was a simulated rape on the actress as well as the character.
But in the case of Moretz, the character is ultimately empowered. She's fighting evil -- and winning. She's flexing her muscles and doing her homework. Her choice of outré language -- language that shocks -- gives her a leg up on her opponents. It shrieks in the comic-book language that the story was originally written: "Don't mess with me. I'm one tough chicklet."
And the depiction of the father-daughter relationship between Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his daughter Hit-Girl is ultimately nourishing, even tender. Sure, he outfits her with deadly weapons like a butterfly knife, but he also teaches her self-defense. He values her. She's no less able because she's not a son. It's as if what they're doing on Big Daddy's path to avenge her mother's death unites them like any father-daughter team embroiled in competitive Little League, or even model airplanes. That's what makes their connection surprisingly affecting. It certainly seems more real and vital than the father-daughter connection between Miley Cyrus and Greg Kinnear in The Last Song.
So, while Hit-Girl's extreme behavior made me uncomfortable at times, I have to sanction the character within the universe of pop comic art. No, I won't take my daughter. And even Moretz can't see it in a theater without being accompanied by an adult. But I won't censor or censure the movie. I can embrace the controversy, and still tell my 10-year-old to watch her language. I'd send her to her room if she dropped the c-bomb because we know the difference between real life and comic books. I certainly have never had to say, "Honey, please don't throw your butterfly knife at your brother -- now finish your canned corn."
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