Given that female adolescents are frequently depicted on-screen as vapid ("Mean Girls"), angst-ridden ("Twilight"), pregnant ("Juno") or merely decorative ( "Spider-Man"), Mattie Ross is a remarkable role. She never shakes out her braids in a makeover montage, swoons over a cute stable boy or frets about the daunting task at hand tracking down the man who shot her father, with assists from a crusty federal marshal ( Jeff Bridges) and dandified Texas Ranger ( Matt Damon).
"True Grit," directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is the second film to be made from Charles' Portis 1968 novel of the same name. The first, which hit cinemas in 1969 and was directed by Henry Hathaway, focused more on John Wayne's federal marshal, aged Mattie to be played by 21-year-old Kim Darby, softened the hard edges Portis had etched into her character and added a hint of romance between Mattie and the Texas Ranger.
While the differences between the two movie Matties say something about her filmmaker fathers, they reveal even more about the eras from which they sprung. The Coens' Mattie is a tenacious new kind of teen heroine jockeying her way onto movie screens.
She's the product of a film industry in which young women are infiltrating traditionally male genres like action films; female directors and producers are wielding increasing creative influence, and the culture is moving from a sexed-up, dumbed-down model of female adolescence to one marked by smarts, strength and scrap.