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True Grit: a movie fit for teenage girls

SPOILER ALERT: I talk about the Coen’s brothers’ movie True Grit. If you prefer not to know anything about the plot or characters, read no further.


Somewhat reluctantly, I went to see True Grit on Christmas day. I was tired. This promised to have a lot of violence. And I find the story of drunk, sharpshooting cowboys with hearts of gold to be old and tiresome. But one of my companions was eager. “It got great reviews,” he said. And so we went, along with two teenage girls, aged 14 and 15.

To my surprise—and pleasure—the movie lived up to its stellar reviews. The acting was terrific. The story had the feel of a Greek tragedy. And who would’ve thunk that a movie featuring dialogue without a single contraction, would be so riveting to listen to and watch.

And the teenage girls loved it. Really.

Why? Because the main character, the one with true grit, is a 14-year-old girl seeking vengeance for the murder of her father. The actor, Hailee Steinfeld, is fabulous. Throughout the movie, the girl’s indomitable spirit, single-mindedness, and strength of character when dealing with recalcitrant adults carries the story. The scene where she negotiates the sale of horses is worth the price of admission on its own.

True, Jeff Bridges makes a great Rooster Cogburn—though his drawl renders some of his dialogue indecipherable. And Matt Damon comes across as a well-meaning if weaker Texas Ranger. But the story is the girl’s. No question. A girl other girls can admire.

I opened the New York Times yesterday to the Arts section, and page 5 sported a full page ad for the movie. Not surprisingly, it was filled with snippets from glowing reviews. In the center, between a picture of Steinfeld with the horse Little Blacky, and another of her with Matt Damon, the ad trumpeted: “11 Critics’ Choice Movie Awards nominations including best picture; Jeff Bridges, best actor; Hailee Steinfeld, best actress in a supporting role; Joel & Ethan Coen, best director.”

I read it twice. “Best actress in a supporting role.”

What the heck were they talking about? Had these bozos seen the movie? Since when is the most important character in the movie, the one that makes everything happen, the one who is in every scene, every moment, is the bloody omniscient narrator at the beginning and end, the one we, the audience, root for, every second of the way, how is this character a supporting role?

Could it be that, God forbid, the most important character in the movie is a teenage girl? Not the drunk sharpshooting cowboy with the heart of gold. Not the Texas Ranger who needs a life. No, no. Couldn’t have that, could we? This is a Western. Boy stuff. Right?

Bullshit.

Give credit where credit is due. Hailee Steinfeld should be nominated for best actor. Period. If the movie conveys any message at all it is that people, get over yourselves. It’s the girl who’s in charge.

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