The XX Factor

Following Up With Hit Girl and “Kick-Ass”

Despite all the pre-premiere controversy , Kick-Ass didn’t have quite the blockbuster opening weekend Lionsgate was hoping for. Still, I was there on Saturday night, ready to see if the foul-mouthed, hyperviolent preteen assassin known as Hit Girl really does represent a new low point in American pop culture.

First, the swearing: It’s not shocking so much as jarring. As Dana Stevens notes in her great review , the “cunts” and “cocks” Hit Girl drops are all part of a “calculated display of raunchy precocity.” But there’s no good reason why the character should have such a potty mouth. It’s not like she grew up around a bunch of soldiers: She’s been raised and trained by her dad, who-despite the unhealthy obsession with guns and death-has a mannered, genteel way of speaking. So where’s she getting the sailor-speak from? Her swearing is so obviously a pander to the audience, it ends up being more annoying than anything else.

In trying to parse out the controversy over Hit Girl’s cussing, I couldn’t help but think of another recent film: Role Models . In that comedy (which, like Kick-Ass , falls into that gray is-it-for-kids-or-for-adults territory), an equally young character, Ronnie, swears a hundred times more, and bluer, than Hit Girl does. But I don’t remember anyone clucking about that performance. Could it be in part because Ronnie-played by Bobb’e J. Thompson-is a young black boy, not a pristine little white girl? (Note, too, that Hit Girl delivers the now infamous line “All right, you cunts, let’s see what you can do now” to a room full of menacing black drug dealers in the projects-an upsettingly stereotypical scene, in my book, particularly because the dealers are being targeted because one of them has been paying too much attention to another pretty white girl.)

Meanwhile, on the violence issue: I was prepared, thanks to reviews like Roger Ebert’s , for the fact that Hit Girl was going to get pummeled in one scene. I thought that was going to upset me far more than anything else, but strangely, it didn’t. I think it’s because, at that point in the film, Hit Girl has been fully established as the most lethal character onscreen, good or bad. She’s just performed some truly virtuosic feats of mayhem, and now she’s facing the Big Baddie. According to the logic of action films (such as it is), it makes sense that she’s going to take some licks- in the context of an active fight . Far more upsetting were the numerous scenes in which captives were microwaved, crushed, or beaten within an inch of their lives, often for no good reason, with no opportunity to fight back. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those scenes are the grisliest and most explicit in the film. They’re certainly the most noxious. In the end, I was less offended by Hit Girl’s high body count than I was by the cold way she knifed a fleeing woman. And that has nothing to do with the fact that she’s an 11-year-old girl.

Finally, I love how all the hubbub over Hit Girl has obscured a far more interesting topic: the fact that Aaron Johnson, the 19-year-old star of Kick-Ass , is engaged to artist Sam Taylor-Wood, who is not only 23 years his senior but also pregnant with the couple’s first child. Shove over, Demi Moore: There’s a new Queen Cougar in town!