Manic Pixie Dream Girl

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The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) is a stock character type in films. Film critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term after seeing Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown (2005), describes the MPDG as "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures".[1] MPDGs are said to help their men without pursuing their own happiness, and such characters never grow up; thus, their men never grow up.[2]

The "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" has been compared to another stock character, the "Magical Negro", a black character who seems to exist only to provide spiritual or mystical help to the (white) protagonist. In both cases, the stock character has no discernible inner life, and usually only exists to provide the protagonist some important life lessons.[3]

Examples[edit]

MPDGs are usually static characters who have eccentric personality quirks and are unabashedly girlish. They invariably serve as the romantic interest for a (most often brooding or depressed) male protagonist. An example is Natalie Portman's character in the movie Garden State, written and directed by Zach Braff.[1][2][4] In his review of Garden State, Roger Ebert also described this kind of rather unbelievable "movie creature" as "completely available" and "absolutely desirable".[5]

The A.V. Club points to Katharine Hepburn's character in Bringing Up Baby (1938) as one of the earliest examples of the archetype.[3] Later examples include Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's,[6] Goldie Hawn's characters in Cactus Flower and Butterflies Are Free,[6] and Barbra Streisand's in What's Up, Doc?.[2][3] Zooey Deschanel's role in 500 Days of Summer has also typified the MPDG.[7][8][9]

The Filmspotting podcast created a list of "Top Five Manic Pixie Dream Girls"; Nathan Rabin appeared as a guest and created his own, separate list of MPDGs. Among those included were Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) in Jules and Jim, Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) in The Lady Eve, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) in Some Like It Hot, and Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) in The Palm Beach Story.[10] Other examples of the MPDG the media has proposed include Jean Seberg's character in Breathless, Belle in Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast,[11] Maude in Harold and Maude, Penny Lane in Almost Famous,[2] and Clarisse in the Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451.[12]

Counterexamples[edit]

Kate Winslet's character Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind acknowledges the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and rejects the type, in a remark to Jim Carrey's Joel: "Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours."[10] The title character of Annie Hall is often called a MPDG but also arguably not one, as she has her own goals independent of the male lead.[11]

Although Zooey Deschanel's Summer is often identified as an MPDG, the movie can be seen as a deconstruction of the trope because it shows the dangers of idealising women as things, rather than respecting them as real people with their own complex outlooks. Director Marc Webb stated that "Yes, Summer has elements of the manic pixie dream girl - she is an immature view of a woman. She's Tom's view of a woman. He doesn't see her complexity and the consequence for him is heartbreak. In Tom's eyes, Summer is perfection, but perfection has no depth. Summer's not a girl, she's a phase." [13]

Criticism and debate[edit]

In an interview with Vulture, the entertainment section of New York, about her film Ruby Sparks, actress and screenwriter Zoe Kazan criticized the term as reductive, diminutive, and misogynistic. She disagreed that Hepburn's character in Bringing Up Baby is a MPDG: "I think that to lump together all individual, original quirky women under that rubric is to erase all difference."[14]

In a December 2012 video, AllMovie critic Cammila Collar embraced the term as an effective description of one-dimensional female characters who only seek the happiness of the male protagonist, and who do not deal with any complex issues of their own. The pejorative use of the term, then, is mainly directed at writers who do not give these female characters more to do than bolster the spirits of their male partners.[15]

In July of 2014, Nathan Rabin said he regretted coining the term.[16]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Rabin, Nathan (January 25, 2007). "My Year Of Flops, Case File 1: Elizabethtown: The Bataan Death March of Whimsy". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d Welker, Holly (Spring 2010). "Forever Your Girl". Bitch Magazine (46):26–30.
  3. ^ a b c Gillette, Amelie (August 4, 2008). "Wild things: 16 films featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls". The A.V. Club. Retrieved April 16, 2009. 
  4. ^ Berman, Judy (August 7, 2008). "The Natalie Portman problem". Salon. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 6, 2004). "Garden State". Rogerebert.com. 
  6. ^ a b Ulaby, Neda (October 9, 2008). "Manic Pixie Dream Girls: A Cinematic Scourge?". All Things Considered. NPR. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  7. ^ Douthat, Ross (August 24, 2009). "True Love". National Review. 61 (15):50.
  8. ^ "Indie Dream Girls", The Daily Beast, July 20, 2009.
  9. ^ Poniewozik, James (October 6, 2011). "Women Watch TV Like This, But Men Watch TV Like This". Time. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b "Top Five Manic Pixie Dream Girls". Filmspotting. November 19, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b "Manic Pixie Dream Girls". The Guardian. Clip Joint. January 9, 2013. Retrieved January 14, 2013. 
  12. ^ Maher, Jimmy (2013-09-23). "Fahrenheit 451: The Book". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  13. ^ Wiseman, Eva (August 16, 2009). ""'Is there such a thing as "the one" - and what happens if you lose her?"". The Guardian. 
  14. ^ Greco, Patti (July 23, 2012). "Zoe Kazan on Writing Ruby Sparks and Why You Should Never Call Her a ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’". Vulture. 
  15. ^ Semantic Breakdown: The Manic Pixie Dream Bitch, YouTube, December 29, 2012
  16. ^ Rabin, Nathan (15 July 2014). "I’m sorry for coining the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”: In 2007, I invented the term in a review. Then I watched in queasy disbelief as it seemed to take over pop culture". Salon. 

External links[edit]