Last week, Entertainment Weekly, also known as the Magical Conduit Through Which Pictures of Johnny Depp Enter My Home, published a story on the vast and unexpected popularity of the movie, “Juno.” The story included the following paragraph:
“After years of being served mostly bland good girls and ciphers — from Molly Ringwald in the '80s to Alicia Silverstone in the '90s to Lindsay Lohan in the '00s — teenage girls are clearly starving for a female antihero, as are their mothers, fathers, older sisters, and even some of their brothers. In Juno, the story of a pint-size badass who also happens to be a romantic idealist, Hollywood has finally delivered. "It's a teenage female lead we've never seen before,'' says (star Ellen) Page. "She dresses like she wants, says what she wants, and doesn't apologize for it....Girls haven't had that sort of character before. We don't have our Catcher in the Rye." In what may be the ultimate sign of success, there's even a cranky backlash bubbling up, much of it from adults who question whether teenage girls are really all that clever.
This can’t be true, I thought. There must be some smart, funny, independent female role models in the movies somewhere. Right? And then I sat and thought about it. And thought about it some more. And then I had a cookie and thought about whether I should have milk with it. (I decided no. It’s a lactose thing.) And then I went back to thinking about the “Juno” thing. And you know what? I really couldn’t think of a comparable character, someone who lit up the cinemaplex simply by walking to the beat of her own indie drummer.
Tons of smart rebels popped into my head from television. There was Buffy and Willow. There was “Veronica Mars,” and Rory on “Gilmore Girls” and maybe Claire Bennet from “Heroes,” although she loses a little luster in the sparkling wit department. And even if there isn’t a hoard of teenage characters, there’s still been a sizable group of adult women portrayed as smart, funny and independent-minded on shows as diverse as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Firefly” and “30 Rock.” In short, there seems to be a relative haven for smart, badass women on TV.
But why so few brilliant, snarky female teens in the movies? Could it be as terrible as the last line of that paragraph suggests: adults…question whether teenage girls are really all that clever. That line makes me enormously sad especially when I consider how my friends and I spent so much of our youth trying to be hyperliterate, attempting to drop bon mots with the verbal alacrity of Noel Coward...if, you know, he’d been more of a teenage girl.
The conspiracy-minded part of me – the part that knows The Purina Man is keeping the basset hounds down at Westminster – believes that maybe Hollywood has denied us independent minded teenage girls for the simple fact that if we let young girls know it’s okay to think for themselves they won’t buy the jeans or the Hannah Montana CDs or the breast implants we want them to buy. They might realize the dangerous truth that real self-worth comes from thinking for yourself. Put too many Junos in the flock, and these sheep might just wander.
And personally, thinking for myself as a woman and all, how brilliantly awesome would that be?