As the mother of a teenage girl, I’m always searching for responsible female role models, especially because my daughter Jennifer is currently obsessed with Zooey Deschanel, the hipster goddess star of the hit series New Girl who also has a website called HelloGiggles, where she posts videos of herself singing while strumming a ukulele and wearing a tiara. As a parent, I’m concerned, because while Zooey is unbelievably charming and talented, she’s always revving up to flounce or twirl or collapse into an adorkable heap and ruffle her bangs, or to pout and whimper until someone hugs her and buys her a pony. Even Zooey’s name is curlicued and whimsical, as if she lives in an enchanted village where she can French-braid the manes of her pink plastic unicorns named Miranda July and Callista Gingrich. New Girl is one of the zillions of sitcoms cloned from Friends, and Max Greenfield is fantastic as a geeky stud, but as I’ve told Jennifer, in real life, when people over 30 share an apartment or spend all of their time hanging out together, it’s usually called a group home or a shelter.
I’ve tried to nudge Jennifer toward someone I consider a true heroine: Lisbeth Salander, the magnetic goth nerd from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Lisbeth embodies the three most essential aspects of modern womanhood, because she can hack any database, she takes satisfyingly violent revenge against male criminals, and she has sex with Daniel Craig. Rooney Mara is spectacular as Lisbeth, even if for a tiny moment her Swedish accent veers into Heidi Klum territory. Rooney is one of those great new young actresses like Olivia Wilde and Zoë Saldana, whom I call the daughters of Gwyneth, because they’re high-cheekboned and often from good families, but they’re still sometimes willing to appear tastefully topless. As Lisbeth, Rooney makes her multiple tattoos, her scary piercings, and her jet-black mohawk look fiercely elegant, although at one point, when she goes undercover in a blond wig, I could feel every woman in the audience become Rooney’s mom and murmur, ”See how pretty you are, when you make an effort?” I also kept picturing just what Lisbeth might do to Zooey with that ukulele.
As for Daniel, well, he’s playing Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading lefty journalist, and in the Dragon Tattoo book it was a little hard buying that every woman had the hots for Mikael; it would be like swooning over Keith Olbermann as a rock god. But with Daniel everything makes perfect sense, especially because he’s wearing a wardrobe of cardigans, perfectly knotted scarves, tight waistcoats, and an even tighter black overcoat, so he’s like Harry Potter on the prowl. He also did something else that made me completely helpless: He wore reading glasses, which on a dreamy guy like Daniel are the male equivalent of a nurse’s uniform or a schoolgirl kilt.
Lisbeth also gave me a great idea when, as a reminder, she tattooed a rapist’s crime across his chest and stomach. A few days later, I grabbed a Sharpie and my husband, Josh, woke up to find his body scribbled with ”I Made My Wife Go See Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” which was a movie set in the ’70s where middle-aged English character actors hunted for double agents by sitting behind desks and using rotary phones; it was one of those films where the indoors and the outdoors look exactly the same — it’s all porridge. I kept hoping that Austin Powers would parachute down and urge gloomy Gary Oldman to at least take off his raincoat and galoshes.
Lately, the best female characters all seem to be more than a little damaged, like Charlize Theron’s jaunty, alcoholic ex-prom queen in Young Adult or the pill-popping, bipolar CIA agent played by Claire Danes on the Showtime series Homeland. Claire is maniacally devoted to tracking down terrorists, especially if it means she gets to sleep with the cute ones. I also love Emily VanCamp and Madeleine Stowe on Revenge, that series where the characters have names like Ashley Davenport and Declan Porter, and Emily assumes a ferocious new identity in order to avenge her father, who was framed and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Emily stalks her way through the Hamptons in killer white evening gowns, while Madeleine is her socialite brunette nemesis, and at least once every episode someone, most often while standing in the grand foyer of their estate, hisses, ”This isn’t a game!”
As I’ve tried to explain to Jennifer, nowadays a woman can’t get by on just widening her eyes and toying with her luscious curls, like Zooey, or having her eyes so surgically widened that she can’t shut them, like half the population of Beverly Hills, or getting nostalgic about Jimmy Choos and cupcakes while watching those Sex and the City rerun marathons on E!. Today, a borderline personality disorder is the new Birkin, if you ask me.