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This Season, the Scrappy Heroes Are Wearing Skirts

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This Season, the Scrappy Heroes Are Wearing Skirts

Arts & Life

This Season, the Scrappy Heroes Are Wearing Skirts

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

When Hollywood makes action adventures, provocative comedies and fantasy films, it almost always targets teenage boys as the primary audience. Our critic Bob Mondello says this week, the sisters of those boys will also have someone to root for in "Juno" and in "The Golden Compass."

BOB MONDELLO: "The Golden Compass" is an enormous, action-packed, magic-fueled epic fantasy — the kind with castles and armies and creatures not found at your local zoo like armored bears.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Golden Compass")

Unidentified Man #1: Let's not be too hasty.

Unidentified Man #2: How (unintelligible), Iorek. Heard you ran into a little local trouble. Didn't have the first notion on how to spring you. Fortunately little girls come in real resourceful up in these parts.

MONDELLO: Now, there's the line you'll not hear in an epic starring a Harry or a Frodo. Little girls — Harry Potter's Hermione, for instance — tend to be part of a hero's posse in most adventures.

But in this one, Lyra Belacqua - played by Dakota Blue Richards - has her own posse, made up of water-dwelling Gyptians, fierce urchins, changeable spirit daemons, plus a bear, a witch and a wardrobe of skirts. Lyra is a fearless little preteen damsel, who does not even like the suggestion that she might ever be a damsel in distress.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Golden Compass")

Unidentified Man #3: Everybody, regardless of (unintelligible). You're a lady. Chateau, cook. He says that's why your uncle left you here - to make you a lady.

Ms. DAKOTA BLUE RICHARDS (Actress): (As Lyra Belacqua) Nobody can make me a lady. Take it back.

MONDELLO: Lyra is the heroine of the story designed to spin three films, as it did the three books of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials." That saga proved controversial in some quarters because of the religious non-beliefs of its author.

Worrying that this could also be an issue at the Cineplex, the filmmakers have taken great pains to make "The Golden Compass" amusing, exciting and grand without ever raising anyone's hackles.

The makers of the film "Juno," on the other hand, figure what's the point of having hackles if they never get elevated, so they push every button they can. Their heroine is a sharp-tongued 16-year-old who is not about to let an unexpected pregnancy get in the way of her quirky sense of humor — even when she and her dad are first meeting some possible adoptive parents.

(Soundbite of movie, "Juno")

Ms. ELLEN PAGE (Actress): (As Juno MacGuff) A wicked pick in the pennies they were by the way - super classy, not like those people with fake woods in the background. Honestly, who do they think they're fooling?

Ms. ALLISON JANNEY (Actress): (As Bren MacGuff) (Unintelligible) penny saver?

Mr. J.K. SIMMONS (Actor): (As Mac MacGuff) Should we sit down and get to know one another?

Ms. JANNEY: (As Bren MacGuff) I'm going to get some drinks. What would anyone like? I have Peligrino or a vitamin water of orange juice?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno MacGuff) All of (unintelligible) please.

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac MacGuff) She's kidding. Juno (unintelligible) has a wonderful sense of humor, just one of her many genetic gifts.

MONDELLO: Juno is played very smartly by Ellen Page as self-possessed and not quite as worldly as she thinks but still a lot worldlier than her boyfriend or the adoptive dad, who are, respectively, just leaving adolescence and desperately clinging to its memory.

In the same sense that "The Golden Compass" is a feminized version of all those "Lord of the Narnia" fantasies, this movie qualifies as a feminized version of "Knocked Up."

(Soundbite of movie, "Juno")

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac MacGuff) Who is the father, Juno?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno MacGuff) It's Paulie Bleeker.

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac MacGuff) Paulie Bleeker?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno MacGuff) What?

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac MacGuff) I don't' think he had it in him.

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno MacGuff) I know, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Now, Hollywood lore says that boys prefer movies with boys as heroes — something that becomes self-fulfilling, of course, if girls are not given comparable roles. Which makes it all the more remarkable that Juno and Lyra are not the only gals on screen at the moment.

This weekend also brings "Atonement," in which a lie told by a 13-year-old schoolgirl wrecks a number of lives, and "Grace Is Gone," in which a man shielding his pre-teen daughters from tragedy discovers that they are more resilient than he is.

And in a few weeks, the animated film "Persepolis" will brings us Iran's Islamic revolution through the eyes of a spunky cutie named Marjane.

All of these roles could have gone to boys, I suppose - except Juno, since pregnancy has its requisites. But I have to say it's interesting to have the shoe on the other foot for a change - a sneaker, admittedly, not a high heel, but it's a start.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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