Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

A certain kind of character has been showing up a lot more lately in movies, specifically those movies aiming to be quirky, coming of age/self-discovery films. (Fairly) Recently, this character has been seen in Garden State, Elizabethtown, Almost Famous, My Sassy Girl, The Girl Next Door, and in possibly every movie in which Zooey Deschanel has starred. This character is known as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and she has been described by The Onion A.V. Club's Nathan Rabin as a "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"( 16 films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls).

She has been compared to Cracked's Magical Negro in that she has no known life of her own and exists simply to further the life of the (male) protagonist and help him meet the goals he otherwise could not have achieved. But aside from her ability to transform men from uptight, sad-sacks into free, live-life-to-the-fullest kinda guys, she is defined by her "quirkiness". NPR categorizes Natalie Portman in Garden State as the quintessential MPDG as her quirks involve lying all the time, making new noises in order to feel unique, actually telling people she's weird and then doing a silly little dance to illustrate her weirdness and of course changing Zach Braff's character's life with a song.

Surely there are men out there looking for their own MPDG to pull them out of their horribly boring lives, but here's the problem: the MBDG as we know her doesn't exist in real life. Because in real life, she is fucking crazy, literally batshit insane. In the real world, this girl would hospitalized. She would be completely insecure and unsure of herself to the point of self-destruction. And that is the real problem with the MPDG. It's not just that she's really fucking annoying, but rather she, like so many other stereotypes,reinforce unrealistic standards for women. She's attractive to the male protagonist because she has no real standards. She’s too flaky to think about her future and too spontaneous to be in a committed relationship. Her flaws are seen as cute idiosyncrasies rather than real mental problems.Moreover, she is transitional. The men in these movies rarely end up with the MPDG. She is used as a device to further their lives, and then they go back to their old lives, ie/ Zach Braff and Ben Affleck going back to their fiances in The Last Kiss and Forces of Nature, Charlize Theron DYING in Sweet November. But somewhere along the line, this archetype of an unstable woman has actually become romantic and desirable. According to these films, it is attractive for a woman to be carefree to a point where she does not think about money, security, a career, or open communication. JiJi Lee sums it best in her piece, Modern Love:

"At the heart of these films is the implication that women have the desire and energy to devote themselves to their troubled male counterparts, further ossifying the traditional roles that men and women are supposed to play. While the progressive twist depicts men as the ones in distress, women are still meant to cosset them...Rather than breathing new life into this genre, more than anything, these independent films resuscitate the antiquated notions of how men and women interact. Men may go for a more complicated woman but they still want her to play a simple role."

Here is a link to the NPR story on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. There is a really great video that explains Manic Pixie Dream girl more as well as giving examples. I can't embed it, but it's worth it.

1 comment:

  1. AH YES. When I saw Elizabeth town, I thought of Garden State because of this MPDG! I'd say it's the spin off the prince charming for the girl; this girl is here to save the guy's life by showing him there are smaller things to enjoy in life.