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 observing Kirsten Dunst's character 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 (2004), 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 (1961),[6] Goldie Hawn's characters in Cactus Flower (1969) and Butterflies Are Free (1972),[6] and Barbra Streisand's in What's Up, Doc? (itself a remake of the aforementioned Bringing Up Baby).[2][3] Zooey Deschanel's role in 500 Days of Summer (2009) 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 (1962), Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) in The Lady Eve (1941), Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) in Some Like It Hot (1959), and Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) in The Palm Beach Story (1942).[10] Other examples of the MPDG the media has proposed include Jean Seberg's character in Breathless (1960), Belle in Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast (1991),[11] Maude in Harold and Maude (1971) and Penny Lane in Almost Famous (2000).[2]

Character Actress Movie Date References
Susan Vance Katharine Hepburn Bringing Up Baby 1938 [3]
Jean Harrington Barbara Stanwyck The Lady Eve 1941 [10]
Gery Jeffers Claudette Colbert The Palm Beach Story 1942 [10]
Sugar "Kane" Kowalczyk Marilyn Monroe Some Like It Hot 1959 [10]
Patricia Jean Seberg Breathless 1960 [11]
Holly Golightly Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany's 1961 [6]
Catherine Jeanne Moreau Jules and Jim 1962 [10]
Toni Simmons Goldie Hawn Cactus Flower 1969 [6]
Maude Ruth Gordon Harold and Maude 1971 [2]
Judy Maxwell Barbara Streisand What's Up, Doc? 1972 [2][3]
Jill Tanner Goldie Hawn Butterflies Are Free 1972 [6]
Belle Paige O'Hara (VA) Beauty and the Beast 1991 [11]
Marla Singer Helena Bonham Carter Fight Club 1999 [12]
Penny Lane Kate Hudson Almost Famous 2000 [2]
Sam Natalie Portman Garden State 2004 [1][2][4]
Summer Finn Zooey Deschanel 500 Days of Summer 2009 [7][8][9]
Maggie Murdock Anne Hathaway Love & Other Drugs 2010 [13]

Counterexamples[edit]

Kate Winslet's character Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) 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 a 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."[14]

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."[15]

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.[16]

In 2012 and 2013, several articles appeared in the mainstream media declaring the “death” of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and calling for the retirement of the term.

In December 2012, Slate’s Aisha Harris posited that “critiques of the MPDG may have become more common than the archetype itself,” suggesting that filmmakers had been forced to become “self-aware about such characters” in the years since Rabin’s coining of the phrase and that the trope had largely disappeared from film.[17]

In July 2013, Kat Stoeffel, for The Cut, argued that the term itself had become sexist, citing her opinion that “it was levied, criminally at Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Zooey Deschanel, the actual person. How could a real person’s defining trait be a lack of interior life?"[18]

Similar sentiments were elucidated by Monika Bartyzel for The Week in April of 2013, who wrote “this once-useful piece of critical shorthand has devolved into laziness and sexism.[19]” Bartyzel argues that “[The term] ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ was useful when it commented on the superficiality of female characterizations in male dominated journeys, but it has since devolved into a pejorative way to deride unique women in fiction and reality.”

Bartyzel’s arguments were propagated by Tracey Moore for Jezebel a week later.[20] Moore quoted Bartyzel’s argument that “In its expansion, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl designation moved from putting a spotlight on questionably hollow female characters to marginalizing and dismissing all manner of diverse female characters on film,” and then added “this catch-all now has authentically quirky women … with off-beat interests everywhere thinking about the way the MPDG moniker now renders jokey and false any attempt at cultivating what we used to call an interesting personality.”

Retraction of the Term[edit]

On the July 14th, 2014, for Salon, Rabin prompted a retraction of the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.”[21] He argued that in “giving an idea a fuzzy definition,” he inadvertently gave the phrase power it was not intended to have. The trope’s popularity, Rabin suggested, lead to discussions of a more precise definition, a reduction of the critic’s all-encompassing classification of MPDG. While he coined the term to expose the sexist implications in modern culture, the “phrase was increasingly accused of being sexist itself.” Backlash occurred when many well-loved female characters were placed under this trope. In response, Rabin suggested that nuanced characters cannot be classified in such a restricted nature, and thus he apologized to pop culture for “creating this unstoppable monster.”

The Male Gaze[edit]

One possible explanation for the lack of professional women in films may have to do with The Male Gaze, as described by Budd Boetticher which is used in film so that the heroine is one who exists for the hero. He says, “What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance.” In this way, the male gaze plays a role in the creation of the MPDG, as the way it is put here makes it appear as if she would not exist without the male gaze.[22]

Some believe that the male gaze provokes a sense of guilt in the female character as she represents something to be lusted after but also a symbol of castration.[23][24]

Manic Pixie Dream Boy[edit]

Recently there has been discussion of a male version of this trope, the Manic Pixie Dream Boy or Manic Pixie Dream Guy. Augustus Waters from the film version of The Fault in Our Stars (2014) was given this title in a 2014 Vulture.com article,[25] in which Matt Patches stated “he’s a bad boy, he’s a sweetheart, he’s a dumb jock, he’s a nerd, he’s a philosopher, he’s a poet, he’s a victim, he’s a survivor, he’s everything everyone wants in their lives, and he’s a fallacious notion of what we can actually have in our lives.”

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy trope has also been pointed out in sitcoms such as Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock. The female protagonists of these shows are married to men (Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt and James Marsden’s Chris Cros, respectively), who, according to a 2012 Grantland article,[26] “patiently [tamp] down her stubbornness and temper while appreciating her quirks, helping her to become her best possible self.”

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c 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 e f g h Welker, Holly (Spring 2010). "Forever Your Girl". Bitch Magazine (46):26–30.
  3. ^ a b c d e Gillette, Amelie (August 4, 2008). "Wild things: 16 films featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls". The A.V. Club. Retrieved April 16, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b 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 c d e Ulaby, Neda (October 9, 2008). "Manic Pixie Dream Girls: A Cinematic Scourge?". All Things Considered. NPR. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Douthat, Ross (August 24, 2009). "True Love". National Review. 61 (15):50.
  8. ^ a b "Indie Dream Girls", The Daily Beast, July 20, 2009.
  9. ^ a b Poniewozik, James (October 6, 2011). "Women Watch TV Like This, But Men Watch TV Like This". Time. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Top Five Manic Pixie Dream Girls". Filmspotting. November 19, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Manic Pixie Dream Girls". The Guardian. Clip Joint. January 9, 2013. Retrieved January 14, 2013. 
  12. ^ Knisely, Lisa. "In defense of the 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl'". The Daily Dot. Retrieved 10/5/2014.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  13. ^ Buckwalter, Ian. "Out of Frame: Love and Other Drugs". dcist. Gothamist LLC. Retrieved 10/5/2014.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  14. ^ Wiseman, Eva (August 16, 2009). ""'Is there such a thing as "the one" - and what happens if you lose her?"". The Guardian. 
  15. ^ Greco, Patti (July 23, 2012). "Zoe Kazan on Writing Ruby Sparks and Why You Should Never Call Her a ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’". Vulture. 
  16. ^ Semantic Breakdown: The Manic Pixie Dream Bitch, YouTube, December 29, 2012
  17. ^ Harris, Aisha. "Is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Dead?". Slate. The Slate Group. Retrieved 2014-09-16. 
  18. ^ Stoeffel, Kat. "The ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ Has Died". The Cut. New York Media LLC. Retrieved 2014-09-16. 
  19. ^ Bartyzel, Monika. "Girls on Film: Why it's time to retire the term 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl'". THE WEEK. THE WEEK Publications, Inc. Retrieved 2014-09-15. 
  20. ^ Moore, Tracy. "'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' Has Lost All Meaning". Jezebel. Gawker Media. Retrieved 2014-09-17. 
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ Nichols, Bill, ed. (1985). Movies and Methods: An Anthology, Volume 2. California: University of California Press. p. 309. ISBN 9780520054097. 
  23. ^ DeGhett, Torie. "The Male Gaze and the Manic Pixie". Somersault Magazine. Retrieved 2014-09-30. 
  24. ^ Braudy, Leo, ed. (2004). Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings (6 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 960. ISBN 978-0195158175. 
  25. ^ Patches, Matt. "He’s Perfect, He’s Awful: The Case Against The Fault in Our Stars’ Gus Waters". Vulture. New York Magazine. Retrieved 2014-09-17. 
  26. ^ Lambert, Molly. "1D Internet Fantasies: Liz Lemon, One Direction, and the Rise of the Manic Pixie Dream Guy". Grantland. Retrieved 2014-09-17. 

External links[edit]